- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2006

A national report card on youth health behavior finds solid improvements in most areas in the past 15 years, especially in the use of seat belts and in teen drinking, the federal government said yesterday.

Only 10 percent of 14,000 high school students said they “rarely or never” used a seat belt when riding in a vehicle, according to the 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

This is a significant improvement from 1991, when nearly 26 percent of students said they rode in cars without buckling up.

Meanwhile, the percentage of students who said they drink alcoholic beverages fell significantly, from 51 percent in 1991 to 43 percent last year.

These results “are encouraging because they show us that persistent efforts to get young people to adopt healthier behaviors can achieve positive results,” said Howell Wechsler, director of the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health.

The YRBS, issued every two years since 1991, gathers information from high school students.

From 1991 to 2005, improvements have been made in most categories: fewer teens have tried cigarettes or used alcohol, marijuana or cocaine; carried weapons; ridden with drivers who have been drinking; or considered or planned suicide. The percentage of youths who attempted suicide, received HIV/AIDS education, tried to lose weight or attended physical education classes either stayed the same or slightly worsened in the past 15 years.

The YRBS also has confirmed an upward trend in teen sexual abstinence. In 2003, 53.2 percent of teens said they hadn’t had sexual intercourse, compared with 45.9 percent in 1991.

The 2005 YRBS sexual activity data was statistically the same as in 2003, which should affirm the value of abstinence education, said Janice Shaw Crouse of Concerned Women for America. The new data also should “silence” those who question the effectiveness of abstinence programs, she said.

The YRBS shows condom use rose steadily from 46 percent in 1991 to 63 percent in 2003 among sexually active youths but stayed the same in 2005.

The plateauing of condom use is “of great concern,” said Monica Rodriquez, an official with the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. This “calls into question” the federal government’s $1 billion investment in abstinence programs that openly discourage condom use, she said.

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