Fewer Hamilton County teens trying drugs, alcohol, sex

Fewer Hamilton County teens trying drugs, alcohol, sex

October 5th, 2011 by Chris Carroll in News

Ione Farrar, Community Health Planner for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department, talks about Youth Risk Behavior at a Tuesday news conference in the Golly Auditorium.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Document: 2010 Hamilton County Youth Risk Behavior Survey

2010 Hamilton County Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

Dr. Ron Blankenbaker, right, retired Dean of the University of Tennessee College of Medicine Chattanooga, expresses concern over youth shootings during an questions and answer session at the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey News Conference Tuesday.

Dr. Ron Blankenbaker, right, retired Dean of the...

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Area students, from left, A.J. Jackson, Amee Desai and Kianna Lindsey look at results of a 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey Tuesday at the Hamilton County Health Department.

Area students, from left, A.J. Jackson, Amee Desai...

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Not everybody's doing it.

Cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, inhalants and sex all experienced a decade of decline among Hamilton County high school students, according to a new survey.

Those results lent an optimistic feel to a Tuesday morning news conference at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department.

"We're always concerned that youth are engaging in risky behaviors, and they still are," health department researcher Ione Farrar said.

"But it's a lot lower."

Still, the Youth Risk Behavior Study found that 5 percent of Hamilton County students are "extreme-risk takers" who smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, use marijuana and have sex -- the study's "four key risk behaviors" -- prompting one pediatrician to say "we need to be cautious" in celebrating the data.

"We have to be on our toes and remain vigilant," Dr. Deborah Poteet-Johnson said.

According to the study, 45 percent of local teens admitted to currently using one or more illicit substances, while 50 percent said they currently live a risk-free life -- a 6 percent increase since 2002, when officials last released a youth survey.

Nearly 3,500 students from 19 public and six private high schools answered 96 multiple-choice questions that touched on everything from heroin to condoms to vegetable consumption.

Designed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the survey promised anonymity to obtain honest answers.

"DO NOT write your name on this survey," the first page states. "The answers you give will be kept private. No one will know what you write. Answer the questions based on what you really do."

Farrar said the health department used CDC techniques to weed out the fibbers.

The overall student response rate fell just below 70 percent. Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society Executive Director Rae Bond called that "an extraordinary response rate," adding that apathy, absenteeism and student or parent refusal made total cooperation impossible.

Officials did not say which private schools submitted data. Farrar said it was "a mix of large and small" institutions.

Nationally, Hamilton County performed better than average in teen alcohol use, drugs at school and high school students "seriously considering suicide."

Local students performed worse in physical education enrollment and the percentage of students who reported carrying a gun, knife or club to school within the past 30 days -- 22 percent.

Twenty percent of students said they tried alcohol before their teenage years, and 8 percent reported having sexual intercourse or oral sex before turning 13 -- findings corroborated by a recent Columbia University study that concluded substance abuse often begins in grade school.

Participants were asked to provide their height and weight to measure fitness, and researchers found that the local obesity rate is 12 percent, a figure that hasn't changed since 2002.

Officials said more detailed reports on risky behavior will be released within a few months.

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