- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 3, 2010

American high school teens are drinking less soda but still avoiding daily exercise, says a national report card on teen health and risk behaviors.

Given the nation’s battle against obesity, it’s “good news” that fewer students are drinking a soda a day, said Danice K. Eaton, a research scientist at the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which released its 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance survey (YRBS) June 3.

About 29 percent of students drank a soda a day in 2009, down from 34 percent in 2007, she said. However, about 82 percent said they were not “physically active” for at least an hour a day.

The 2009 YRBS, which surveyed 16,000 students in grades nine through 12, included new questions on teen prescription drug abuse.

About one in five students said they have taken a drug such as OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, Adderall, Ritalin or Xanax that wasn’t prescribed for them. White teens (23 percent) were the most likely to say they had taken someone else’s pills, compared to Hispanic youth (17 percent) and black youth (12 percent).

This kind of drug abuse is a genuine concern, said Howell Wechsler, director of the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health.

“Some people may falsely believe that prescription drugs are safer than illegal drugs, yet their misuse can cause serious adverse health effects, including addiction and death,” he said.

Compared to the 2007 YRBS, the new survey found statistically similar rates of alcohol use, illegal drug use and tobacco use.

On sexual measures, teen behaviors also were stable: In 2009, 46 percent of high school students reported ever having had sexual intercourse, 13.8 percent said they had had sex with four or more persons, and 34.2 percent said they were currently sexually active.

Of the sexually active teens, 61.1 percent had used a condom at last intercourse.

Compared with 1991, when the YRBS began, the sexual trend data are positive. In this new survey, for instance, 54 percent of teens said they were virgins, while in 1991, the exact opposite was true - 54 percent of students said they were sexually experienced.

Condom use also has improved over time - in 1991, only 46 percent of teens said they had used a condom at last intercourse, but this increased to 63 percent in 2003 and has stayed at that level since.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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