CDC data shows growing health concerns among America’s youth

FILE PHOTO: Young teen doing schoolwork at home. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

SALT LAKE CITY – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) that highlights growing health concerns facing America’s youth. The data reveals that young people are struggling with a variety of issues including mental health, violence, and poor health habits.

Heidi Duston, prevention administrator with the Utah Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), believes that the data will help identify specific risk factors, develop interventions, and support families and youth.

Nationwide, the data showed that youth are struggling with thoughts of suicide, bullying, dating violence, sexual assault, and poor dietary and exercise habits. The Utah-specific YRBSS data also showed that youth in the state face similar challenges.

The data revealed that the percentage of youth who watched TV or played video games for more than two hours a day increased from 14.9% in 2013 to 55.5% in 2021. Additionally, only 23.5% of youth got eight or more hours of sleep on an average school night, and just 21.7% of youth met the recommended 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day. The percentage of youth who text while driving was also found to be high, with 47% of youth engaging in the behavior.

Regarding mental health and suicide, the data showed that 41.5% of youth felt sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more, which is a significant increase from 33% in 2017. The percentage of youth who seriously considered attempting suicide remained steady since 2017, and female and gay, lesbian, and bisexual students were more likely to consider suicide than their male or heterosexual peers.

In terms of violence, the data showed that the percentage of youth who were hit, slapped, or physically hurt by their boyfriend or girlfriend dropped from 12.6% in 2007 to 6.1% in 2021. However, 20.6% of youth were verbally or emotionally harmed by someone they were dating or going out with, and 7.7% of youth were physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to.

Anna Fondario, director of the DHHS Office of Health Promotion and Prevention, highlighted the importance of the YRBSS survey in providing information from youth themselves at the community level.

The YRBSS survey is conducted every other year in high schools across the country. In Utah, it is one of two survey instruments students may receive as part of the Student Health and Risk Prevention (SHARP) survey. The PNA survey, the other survey instrument, provides additional information on substance use that is not collected in the YRBSS.

“While we tend to focus on the negatives with the data, we know that building strong and healthy families, schools, and communities protects youth from many of these challenges,” Dutson said in a release. “Youth consistently report parents have a big impact on their decisions to engage in high risk behavior. We also know protective factors like eating meals as a family, feeling connected to your family and school community, and having opportunities to contribute in meaningful ways prevent many of these harmful outcomes.”

The YRBSS and SHARP survey data has been used to educate parents about the harms of social media on youth, expand access to mental health services and resources, and develop campaigns that encourage parents to talk to their children about the dangers of underage drinking.

The Utah YRBSS data can be explored by visiting the Indicator-Based Information System for Public Health website. The data from the Utah PNA survey can be found on the Utah Student Health and Risk Prevention website or by downloading the Utah Adolescent Health report. The data from the 2023 survey is expected to be publicly available next spring.

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