High school kids are moving away from cigarettes and TV — but they have a few other problems


CDC

This post has been updated.

Times are a-changin' — and fewer high school students today are smoking cigarettes than ever before in the history of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

That's a clean victory for public health officials, who have worked for decades to curb the use of cigarettes among young people.

According to the 2013 results, released Thursday, 15.7 percent of high school students report smoking, which beat the U.S. goal of reducing cigarette smoking among adolescents to 16 percent or less by 2020.

That's the good news.

On the other hand, there are quite a few other points of concern in the survey. Here are a few:

1) Teens are still texting and driving — a lot.

Texting and driving continues to be a big public safety problem. Among the students who had driven in the 30 days before they took the survey, 41 percent reported texting and driving at least once in that period.

Compare that with the 10 percent who say they recently drank and drove.

While the dangers of drinking and driving continue to be hammered home, there's still a lot of work to be done to make teen drivers aware that texting and e-mailing while at the wheel is also impaired driving.

2) They're watching TV less, and using computers and other devices a lot more — but not for homework.

To any parent of a teenager, it probably comes as no surprise that the number of high school students using devices such as computers, smartphones and tablets for three hours or more has just about doubled in the past 20 years.

The trend has overtaken TV watching, which 32.5 percent of students say they do for three hours or more compared with the 41.3 percent of students who use other devices in their non-school hours.

Annoying to parents, probably. But there are also health risks.

Excessive time on electronic devices takes kids away from physical activity, learning and socializing — which are a lot more healthy, says Stephanie Zaza, director of the CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Health.

And, "excessive screen time such as TV, computer and video game use is associated with chronic risk factors such as obesity," she added.

3. Kids are having less sex, but there's a troubling downturn in condom use.

This year's survey has some encouraging news about teen sex, with data indicating that 47 percent of teens are having sex compared with 54 percent in 1991.

On the other hand, there's been a troubling increase in the number of students who report that they or their partner had not used a condom in the past decade. In 2003, 63 percent of sexually active teens reported using condoms; in 2013, 59 percent did.

There's no word on what's behind that trend.

"The YRDS tells us what kids do but not why," Zee said.

4. They're drinking a lot of pop — er... soda. 

Despite a push to call attention to the potential health benefits of water compared with sugar-laden sodas, a lot of kids are still drinking them--though the numbers are going down. Among high school students 22.3 percent reported not drinking soda in the past seven days, compared with 18.6 percent in 2007.

5. And it's helping to make them more obese. 

We've heard it over and over again from first lady Michelle Obama, but today's report confirms that the problem of obese children and teens is still there — and we aren't making a dent in it.

In 2013, 13.7 percent of teens were obese compared with 10.6 percent in 1999. And that trend hasn't really changed since the last time this survey was conducted, in 2011.

Similarly, 16.6 percent of students were overweight, compared with 14.1 percent in 1999.

CORRECTION: This post incorrectly reported that high school students were drinking more soda, according to the CDC’s YRBS survey. In fact rates of recent soda drinking have gone down.

Abby Phillip is a general assignment national reporter for the Washington Post. She can be reached at abby.phillip@washpost.com. On Twitter: @abbydphillip
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