Mandan News

Promising trends among N.D. high school students

A new survey shows North Dakota high school students are much less likely to drink, smoke cigarettes, use marijuana or ride in a vehicle with a driver who had been drinking than they were 10 years ago. They are also more diligent about wearing seat belts while driving.

The information is included in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is given to high school students across the nation every two years. In North Dakota, 10,516 students in grades nine through 12 completed the survey in the spring of 2013. It is supervised by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The 10 years of data point to some encouraging trends. In 2013, 11.6 percent of students reported never wearing a seat belt while driving, compared to 21.4 percent in 2003. Nationally, 7.6 percent of students reported last year that they never wore a seat belt while driving.

In 2003, 42.8 percent of the North Dakota students surveyed said they had been a passenger in a vehicle with a driver who had been drinking. In the 2013 report, the number plummeted to 21.9 percent, compared to a national rate of 25.1 percent.

The rise in seat-belt use, and the decline in the number of students who ride with a driver who has been drinking, show the effectiveness of education in reducing risky behavior, said Kirsten Baesler, North Dakota’s superintendent of public instruction.

“It does say that education works. It does say that when we present evidence and facts to our students, they understand the consequences. It influences and impacts their decisions,” Baesler said. “Education works with our young people.”

Valerie Fischer, the Department of Public Instruction’s director of safe and healthy schools and adult education, said she was pleased that “our youth are making better decisions for themselves.”
“Prevention efforts must continue within each family, school and community,” Fischer said. “Together, we can change the culture of negative risk behaviors to ensure a healthy and safe future for everyone.”

The survey’s results also reveal that North Dakota students reported more incidents of bullying, and are more likely to have attempted suicide, than is typical of students across the nation.

Of the survey respondents, 11.5 percent of the North Dakota students said they had attempted suicide in the past year, compared to 8 percent nationally. About 17 percent of the students reported being bullied electronically, while 25.4 percent said they were bullied on school grounds.

Nationally, 14.8 percent of students reported being bullied electronically, while 19.6 percent said they had been bullied at school.

Baesler said there might be a link between bullying and incidents of attempted suicide. She said stronger partnerships between agencies that work with students could help.

“We need to have earlier identification of problems, and more collaboration among people who work with our young people – in our school settings, in our medical settings, and in our mental health services settings,” Baesler said. “When we do that, hopefully, we will see a reduction in our bullying and our suicide attempts.”

According to the survey, North Dakota high school students:
• Are more likely to text and email while driving. In the 2013 report, 59.3 percent of the North Dakota high school students surveyed said they sent text and email messages while driving, compared to a national rate of 41.4 percent.
• Are more likely to wear seat belts. In 2013, 11.6 percent of students reported never wearing a seat belt while driving, compared to 21.4 percent in 2003. However, only 7.6 percent of students nationally reported never wearing a seat belt while driving.
• Are less likely to ride with a driver who has been drinking. In 2003, 42.8 percent of students reported riding in a vehicle when the driver had been drinking. In the 2013 report, the percentage plummeted to 21.9 percent, compared to a national rate of 25.1 percent.
• Are less likely to try cigarettes or smoke regularly. Last year, 41.4 percent of North Dakota students said they’d tried cigarettes, compared to 61.5 percent in 2003. About 6.6 percent of students reported smoking cigarettes frequently, compared to 16 percent in 2003. Nationally, 5.6 percent of students smoked cigarettes frequently, which is defined as smoking on at least 20 days in the 30 days leading up to the survey.
• Are less likely to drink or have more than five drinks in one sitting. Last year, 35.3 percent of North Dakota students reported having a drink of alcohol within the 30 days preceding the survey, compared to 54.3 percent in 2003. Binge drinking, or having five drinks in one sitting, was reported by 21.9 percent of students in 2013, compared to 39.5 percent in 2003. Nationally, 34.9 percent of students reported having a drink within the 30 days preceding the survey, while 20.8 percent reported binge drinking.
• Are using smokeless tobacco as frequently as before. Of the students surveyed in 2013, 13.8 percent reported using smokeless tobacco for at least one day in the 30 days leading up to the survey, compared to 10.3 percent in 2003. Nationally, 8.8 percent of students in 2013 reported using smokeless tobacco on at least one occasion in the last month.
• Are less likely to have used marijuana one or more times in the 30 days preceding the survey (15.4 percent of North Dakota students in 2013, compared to 20.6 percent in 2003). Nationally, 23.4 percent of students reported using marijuana in the previous 30 days.
• Are more likely to be bullied, both on school property and electronically. In North Dakota, 17.1 percent of the students surveyed reported being bullied electronically last year, while 25.4 percent said they were bullied on school grounds. Nationally, 14.8 percent of students reported being bullied electronically, while 19.6 percent reported being bullied at school.
• Are more likely to have attempted suicide. In North Dakota, 11.5 percent of students surveyed said they had attempted suicide in the past year, compared to 8 percent nationally.
• Are less likely than their national peers to play video or computer games, or use a computer for more than three hours on something that was not schoolwork. (34.4 percent frequency among North Dakota students, 41.3 percent nationally)
• Are more likely than their national peers to use an indoor tanning bed (19.6 percent frequency among North Dakota students, 12.8 percent nationally)
• Are more likely to describe themselves as overweight (32 percent in 2013, compared to 28.6 percent of North Dakota students in 2011). Nationally, 31.1 percent of students last year described themselves as overweight.

North Dakota high school students began taking part in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey in 1995. It tracks behavior that contributes to the leading causes of death, debilitating injury and social problems among young people and adults in the United States.

The survey results are used for planning and evaluating the effectiveness of school and community programs intended to promote healthy personal habits.