Survey Assesses Teens' Risky Behavior A new survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals how high school students are handling health issues, from drinking alcohol to smoking to sex.
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Survey Assesses Teens' Risky Behavior

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Survey Assesses Teens' Risky Behavior

Survey Assesses Teens' Risky Behavior

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And in your heath today, teenagers and risky behaviors. A new survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals how high school students are handling everything from sunscreen to sex. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.

ALLISON AUBREY: Lots of teenagers know that they're supposed to use sunscreen when they spend time outside, and many of them remember their parents slathering it on. But now that it's up to them, do they bother with it?

Unidentified Woman #1: Not really.

Unidentified Woman #2: I used a little bit yesterday, but not today.

Unidentified Woman #3: I didn't bring any at all.

AUBREY: Does it surprise you that less than 10 percent of teenagers wear sunscreen in this country?

Unidentified Woman #4: No.

Unidentified Woman #5: No.

AUBREY: The 10 percent figure comes from the CDC's latest survey on teen health behaviors and refers to the percentage who say they use it regularly. Seventh-grader Alexis Zelleger(ph) is about to turn 13. She says lots of girls just want to be tan, even if it means getting a little sunburned.

Ms. ALEXIS ZELLEGER: You always want to make like the right decision, but then also you have like another rebellious side of you that - or just a side that, you know, it's kind of a social thing.

AUBREY: Going along with the crowd. Zelleger's teacher, Jason Rosenbaum, says it's a struggle for teenagers to think through all the possible consequences of their actions. In the case of sunscreen, risk of skin cancer may seem too remote to be real.

Mr. JASON ROSENBAUM (Teacher): The balance between immediate gratification and safety are definitely a struggle.

AUBREY: This holds true for all the decisions that teens go on to make about everything from alcohol and drugs to sex and tobacco. And the CDC survey on teen behaviors covers them all. Every two years, researchers are able to get about 14,000 ninth to twelfth graders from all over the country to weigh in on all of their most personal decisions and behaviors. Their responses are kept anonymous.

Glenn Flores is a pediatrician and professor at the University of Texas Southwestern. He's reviewed the survey.

Dr. GLENN FLORES (Pediatrician): Teens constantly face temptations in every part of their life.

AUBREY: And in some spheres teens are making good choices. Take, for example, tobacco use. It continues to decline among teenagers, though just slightly -about one in four students report using some kind of tobacco. In other ways, the CDC survey shows that many teens are still taking risks.

Flores says take sex, for example. The survey found one in three high school students are sexually active and 61 percent of them report that either they or their partner use a condom. This is a slight decrease from the rate of condom use reported two years ago. Flores says for parents who are concerned by these statistics, evidence suggests that it makes good sense to talk early and often to your kids about sex.

Dr. FLORES: There are studies that document that when a teen reports that they're able to talk to their parents about sexual issues and have good communication with their parent, that they're less likely to be sexually active and that they're more likely to use condoms if they're sexually active.

AUBREY: Flores says the reproductive health information that teens or preteens get in school seems to be important too. Advocates for more comprehensive sex education say teens today just aren't getting enough facts.

James Wagner is president of Advocates for Youth.

Mr. JAMES WAGNER (President, Advocates for Youth): Right now, the best estimate we have is that around a third of school districts in this country now have an abstinence-only approach. Another third have kind of a mixed bag, that there may be some reference to condoms or birth control, but not a very systematic or comprehensive approach.

AUBREY: So it's the remaining third that are getting the comprehensive approach where abstinence and birth control hold equal sway. Wagner says without accurate information on both, the risks that young people are taking may increase.

CDC officials say they're not sure why sexual activity rates are going up a little bit and condom use is going down a little bit after major gains in both categories in the 1990s. They do say if trends continue, they will get concerned.

Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

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