Developed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an 87-item questionnaire was administered to 3,000 students in 60 public schools regarding their habits and lifestyles.The results indicate that youth smoking has decreased by 2 percent since 1999, and more important, 21 percent of the participants who currently smoke have attempted to quit smoking. An additional finding showed that the number of students who used marijuana had dropped. According to the results for 2001, 29 percent had used marijuana in the past 30 days when the questions were posed, a decrease of 1 percent compared to 1999.
There are many contributing factors as to why students are following a healthier lifestyle. Lenore Zedosky, Executive Director for the Office of Healthy Schools, believes the word is getting out about the dangers of risky behavior. “So much effort has gone into delivering the message about risky lifestyles,” Zedosky said.
The Department of Education has trained 1,800 teachers in the Life Skills Curriculum, a tobacco, alcohol and drug use prevention program. It also provided free information materials to all students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades. More than 2,000 teachers have attended the Department’s Safe Harbors training seminar and tobacco prevention specialists were placed in all eight RESAs.
“Our students are growing up faster than we did,” State Superintendent Dr. David Stewart said. “They are exposed to so many dangers today, and if we get our word across to a few students, then this effort is worthwhile. There are so many factors that influence students. Whether it’s church, community, family or the media, students do listen.” The findings revealed that at the time of the survey, more than 80 percent of the high school students who participated always or most of the time wore a seat belt when riding in a car. Another indication that shows students are practicing healthier behavior is that more than 65 percent of high school students had practiced rigorous physical activities for at least three of the seven days prior to answering the questionnaire.
While this survey shows that students are following safer behavior patterns, there is still much room for improvement. Unfortunately, the use of cigarettes on school property among teenage females has increased, as well as the number of females who have had sexual intercourse. In 1999, only 19 percent of the female participants had smoked cigarettes on school property, but that number increased to 20 percent in 2001. In 1999, 51 percent of the female participants had sexual intercourse, but that number climbed to 53 percent in 2001.
“These indicators tell us that we need to focus more attention on the behavior of females,” Zedosky said. “Clearly, our efforts have paid off so far, but we know that our job is not done.”
Thirty-seven states participate in the CDC survey. Data can be compared among the states from the schools that participate. For a national trend, two schools from each state are selected to answer another set of questions. While all names and faces remain anonymous and the questions are answered on a volunteer basis, parents may request that their child not participate. In West Virginia, there has been an 85 percent student response rate, with a 95 percent school response rate.