Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Alaska 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey Shows Some Reduction In Risky Behavior By Alaska Teenagers

A youth behavior risk survey of 1,300 students in 38 different Alaska high schools shows a reduction in the amount of "risky" behavior on the part of Alaska's teenagers. Full story published November 20th, 2007 in the Anchorage Daily News.

The survey is the results of a joint project between the Alaska State Department of Education and Early Development (DEED) and the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS), in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Click HERE to view the 106 page survey report in PDF format.

Click HERE to view a 100 page multi-year comparison report in PDF format.

Click HERE to view Anchorage Daily News graphic accompanying the story.

The 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted by the state's Division of Public Health shows promising trends in some of the behaviors of Alaska kids. "We see many of the risk factors over the long haul, of the last 12 years or so, going down a bit ... which is very hopeful," said the state's coordinator of the study, Patricia Owen. The anonymous survey posed 100 questions, varying from seat belt usage to sex to suicide. Here are some highlights, based on a press release from the DHSS, which offers a better format:

Alcohol and drug use:

- 39.7 percent of high school students had consumed alcohol within the past 30 days compared to 38.7 percent in 2003 and 47.5 percent in 1995;

- 20.5 percent of high school students reported using marijuana in the past 30 days compared to 23.9 percent in 2003 and 28.7 percent in 1995;

- 25.1 percent of students were offered, sold or given an illegal drug by someone on school property during the past 12 months compared to 28.4 percent in 2003 and 34.1 percent in 1995.

Violence and suicide:

- 29.2 percent of high school students had been in a physical fight during the past year compared to 27.1 percent in 2003 and 35.8 percent in 1995;

- 12.4 percent had been physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the past year compared to 10.8 percent in 2003 (1995 numbers were not available)

- 10.7 percent reported attempting suicide in the past 12 months compared to 8.1 percent in 2003 and 9.4 percent in 1995.

Other behaviors that increase the risk of health problems:

- 45.1 percent of high school students have had sexual intercourse compared to 39.6 percent in 2003 and 47.2 percent in 1995;

- 17.8 percent of high school students smoked in the past 30 days compared to 19.2 percent in 2003 and 36.5 percent in 1995;

- 27.3 percent were overweight or at risk of being overweight compared to 25.4 percent in 2003 (1995 numbers were not available).

The last state survey was done in 2003. Many of the positive trends that showed up then have held steady since that time, according to the state division of chronic disease prevention and health promotion.

Anchorage School District spokeswoman Heidi Embley said the district is assembling its own results, to be available in a couple of months.

Variables: A number of commenters to the story have suggested several variables which might potentially skew the outcome:

- The possibility that teenagers might lie. However, the anonymous nature of the survey might actually encourage teenagers to exaggerate their incidence of risky behavior, in order to gain "street cred" when hanging out with their peers. However, several commenters expressed the belief that some teenagers might have underreported their risky behavior on the survey in an attempt to "sanitize" the record in their minds.

- State Senator Fred Dyson pushed legislation years ago requiring schools to use "opt in" rather than "opt out" procedures for administering these types of surveys. This means a typical school must get parental permission before the fact, rather than allowing parents to opt their kids out after the fact. The kids of parents who do not permit them to fill out these surveys might be from a more conservative background and less likely to engage in risky behavior.

- No stratification between different groups of kids. Consequently, it makes this survey useless in attempting to focus more precisely on sub-groups. The significant difference in lifestyle between urban Alaska and Bush Alaska might generate significatly different results between these two groups. In addition, there may be significant differences between the races or ethnicities.

One other difference between 1995 and 2007; there are now two community resource officers from the Anchorage Police Department assigned to each high school campus. This acts as an additional deterrent to mischief.

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