06/02/08 — 774 teens list their behaviors in survey

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774 teens list their behaviors in survey

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 2, 2008 1:48 PM

More than 59 percent of Wayne County high school students who responded to a recent survey say they have already had sex -- and a majority of them say they come home from school to an empty house.

Students from six local high schools gave those answers as part of a survey sponsored by the Health Department, in partnership with Wayne County Public Schools. The query included questions about their diets, sexual habits, drug and alcohol use and violence-related behaviors.

Results of the 92-question Youth Risk Behavior Survey will be used by area agencies and organizations to assess behaviors that contribute to poor diet, psychological problems, teen pregnancy and unsafe practices.

The surveys were distributed to 889 students at the six county public high schools. Of those, 774 students anonymously completed and returned the information. The nationwide survey, developed by the Center for Disease Control, was funded locally by WATCH and the Health Department.

"It's widely done," said Health Director James Roosen. "One big advantage is you get data specifically for Wayne County high school kids."

The benefits of the survey will be far-reaching, he said, as the questions target behaviors that could contribute to accidents, death, illnesses, pregnancies, etc.

"There's a lot of agencies in Wayne County that are trying to improve the health of our children -- Health Department, WISH, WATCH, Communities in Schools, Wayne Uplift, 4-H," Roosen said. "We're all trying to make a difference in these kids' lives."

While in the past such agencies have looked at "outcome statistics" that measure obesity rates, teen pregnancy and out of wedlock births, Roosen said the county has still lacked the ability to measure behaviors contributing to those statistics.

Areas like children being left home alone.

"The time that they spend by themselves after school, that's important to know that," Roosen said.

In Wayne County, that statistic is alarming, he said.

"The percentage of Wayne County children who were left alone for one or more hours is 57.9 percent," he said. "That's important to know as we try to make our decisions ... a lot of pregnancies occur after school when children are alone."

The lag time also contributes to drinking, raiding the refrigerator or watching too much TV, he added, which can be factors leading to alcohol abuse, obesity, etc.

According to the survey results, locally, binge drinking, defined as five or more drinks within two hours, is below the state average, Roosen said. Those who admitted to binge drinking within the past 30 days of the survey was 18.4 percent compared to 23 percent statewide.

Some of the other local results include:

* 37 percent said they had never drunk alcohol.

* 11 percent of students said they had been hit or physically hurt by a girlfriend or boyfriend. The state rate is 13 percent.

* 14 percent said they had inhaled paint or glue in an effort to get high.

* 23 percent said they had eaten French fries five or more times over the previous week.

* 59 percent reported having had sex at least once; the state average is 51 percent.

* 17 percent said they have been teased about their weight, size or physical appearance.

The results have been compiled into a 193-page document, sorted by gender and race as well as age group and grade. While the information will be distributed to agencies across the county, it can also be viewed online at the Health Department Web site, www.waynegov.com. Roosen said a disk is also available for parents requesting it.

"Anybody that has a child in high school should look at this and then talk to your kids," he said.

It is not the intent to alarm anyone, Roosen added, but rather to be proactive in preventing future problems.

"Some of these behaviors, if you know what's going on as concerned parents, concerned citizens, health professionals, there may be a way to mitigate or change some of these behaviors," he said.

Rovonda Freeman, minority health coordinator with the Health Department, said the survey results will be helpful in localizing efforts.

"It shows that there's a lot of areas where we're doing really good and our kids are doing really good, so it shows that they're really getting the message," she said. "But there's some areas that we see, we need to work."

Allison Pridgen, director of student support services for the school system, said the overriding purpose for the survey was to gain countywide data to better develop both community and school health education programming.

"School is not just about reading and writing and arithmetic any more," she said. "Today's schools are being asked to play a tremendous role in the growth and development of children.

"Our success in diminishing or eliminating unhealthy behaviors will indeed have a direct impact on children academically."