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Fewer Teens Using Tobacco, Marijuana,

Last updated March 16, 2020

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson today released a new report showing that high school students are acting more responsibly by avoiding tobacco, marijuana, risky sexual behavior and other potentially dangerous behaviors that increase their risk for injury, illness and death.


Fewer Teens Using Tobacco, Marijuana,

Engaging in Risky Sexual Behavior

HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson today released a new report showing that high school students are acting more responsibly by avoiding tobacco, marijuana, risky sexual behavior and other potentially dangerous behaviors that increase their risk for injury, illness and death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, which is based on surveys of 9th to 12th grade students in 2001, also showed teenagers are more likely to wear seatbelts and stay out of cars with drivers who had been drinking.

"The youth in our high schools are increasingly acting like responsible young men and women -- making responsible choices that will protect themselves now and well into the future," Secretary Thompson said. "At the same time, this report shows that too many teenagers continue to engage in risky behaviors. All of us -- teachers, community leaders, celebrities, politicians and especially parents -- must work harder to prepare our children with the knowledge and confidence that they need to make wise decisions."

HHS released the findings at the first-ever National Youth Summit in Washington, D.C. The summit is aimed at promoting positive youth development, especially by supporting family and community involvement as well as healthy choices for young Americans.

The 2001 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) report reveals continued positive trends in most measures of students' injury- and violence-related behaviors, as well as sexual behaviors that increase the risk for HIV infection, other STDs, and unintended pregnancies. In a few areas, the trends go the other way -- including a significant drop since 1991 in the percentage of students who receive daily physical education instruction -- increasing their risks of obesity and related illnesses.

Injury- and violence-related behaviors that showed a continued decrease since they were first examined in the early '90s include the percentage of students who never or rarely wore seatbelts (26 percent to 14 percent); rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol (40 percent to 31 percent); seriously considered suicide (29 percent to 19 percent); and planned a suicide attempt (19 percent to 15 percent). In addition, the percentage of students who carried a weapon decreased from 1991-1997 (26 percent to 18 percent) and then remained constant from 1997-2001 (18 percent to 17 percent).

The percentage of students who reported current and frequent cigarette use increased from 1991-1997 (28 percent to 36 percent for current use and 13 percent to 17 percent for frequent use) and then decreased (29 percent and 14 percent between 1997 and 2001). Similarly, the percentage of students who reported lifetime and current marijuana use increased from 1991-1997 (31 percent to 47 percent for lifetime use, and 15 percent to 26 percent for current use) and then decreased by 2001 (42 percent and 24 percent, respectively). However, lifetime and current cocaine use increased from 1991-2001 (6 percent to 9 percent, and 2 percent to 4 percent, respectively).

The percentage of students who ever had sexual intercourse decreased from 54 percent to 46 percent from 1991-2001, and those who had four or more sexual partners decreased from 19 percent to 14 percent. Simultaneously, the percentage of sexually active students who used a condom at last sexual intercourse increased from 1991-1999 (46 percent to 58 percent) and then leveled by 2001 (58 percent).

To further the effort at reducing risks for teens regarding sexual behavior, the President's budget for fiscal year 2003 includes a $33 million increase over 2002 funding for abstinence-only education, fulfilling the President's pledge to fund abstinence-only programs at $135 million -- an unprecedented investment in teen abstinence education. For the first time, the federal government has demonstrated its commitment to bringing equity to the message of abstinence and other education services.

While the percentage of students enrolled in physical education (PE) class remained constant from 1991-2001 (49 percent to 52 percent), the percentage of students enrolled in daily PE classes decreased from 1991-1995 (42 percent to 25 percent) and then increased from 1995-2001 (25 percent to 32 percent). One in 10 high school students reported they were overweight (11 percent), and 14 percent were at risk of being overweight. Less than one-quarter of high school students (21 percent) ate the recommended daily five servings of fruits and vegetables.

"These data are critical because they allow us to identify trends and develop new and better programs that help teens make positive health choices," said Acting CDC Director David W. Fleming, M.D.

The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System monitors six areas of priority health-risk behaviors among youth, including behaviors that lead to unintentional injuries and violence, tobacco use, alcohol and other drug use, sexual behaviors, dietary behaviors and physical activity. The 2001 report includes data for the nation and for 34 states and 18 large cities. The YRBSS is the only surveillance system that monitors a wide range of health risk behaviors among adolescents at the national, state and local levels.

The survey is administered every two years to representative and scientifically selected samples of high school students throughout the United States. For the 2001 national YRBSS, 13,601 questionnaires were completed by students in grades 9 through 12. Parental permission was obtained, student participation was voluntary and responses were anonymous. States could modify the YRBSS questionnaire to meet their needs.

The national YRBSS is one of three major HHS-sponsored surveys that provide data on tobacco and other substance use among youth. The other two are the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) and the Monitoring the Future (MTF) Study.

The NHSDA, sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, is a primary source of statistical information on illicit drug use in the U.S. population 12 years of age and older. Conducted periodically from 1971 and annually since 1990, the NHSDA collects data in household interviews. NHSDA findings for 2000 are available at http://www.drugabusestatistics.samhsa.gov.

The MTFS, conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), has tracked tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drug use and attitudes toward drugs among 12th grade students since 1975. In 1991, 8th and 10th grade students were added to the study. Findings are available at http://www.drugabuse.gov/DrugPages/MTF.html.

While it is somewhat difficult to make comparisons due to differences in survey methods and time periods, the findings of all three HHS surveys are generally consistent with respect to trends over time and subgroup differences.

More information about the 2001 youth risk behavior report is available at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr and http://www.cdc.gov/yrbs.


Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other press materials are available at www.hhs.gov/news.

References and Information Sources used for the Article:


Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: March 16, 2020
Last updated: March 16, 2020