Every other year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collects Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) data from a scientifically sound sample of public and private schools. In 2007 that sample included more than 14,000 questionnaires from 39 states and 22 large urban school districts.
Here is a summary of the 2007 results. High school students today are less likely to engage in many health risk behaviors than high school students in the early 1990s, unless those students are Hispanic.
Let's start with the good news:
There are have been significant decreases in the percentage of black students who have had sexual intercourse (down from 82% in 1991 to 66% in 2007);
There are have been significant decreases in the percentage of black students who have had four or more sexual partners during their lifetime (down from 43% in 1991 to 28% in 2007);
There are have been significant decreases in the percentage of white students who have had sexual intercourse (down from 50% in 1991 to 40% in 2007);
Compared with Hispanic high school students in the 1990s, Hispanic students in 2007 were more likely to wear a seat belt at least some of the time and to use condoms during their most recent sexual intercourse;
Compared with Hispanic high school students in the 1990s, Hispanic students in 2007 were less likely to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, use drugs such as marijuana and methamphetamines, or ride with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.
The bad news for Hispanic youth:
There has been no significant decreases in the percentage of Hispanic students who have had sexual intercourse (53% in 1991 and 52% in 2007);
Overall, Hispanic students were more likely than either black students or white students to attempt suicide, use cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, ride with a driver who had been drinking alcohol, or go 24 hours or more without eating in an effort to lose weight;
Other not so good news: In the United States, 72% of all deaths among people 10 to 24 years old result from four causes - motor vehicle crashes, unintentional injuries, homicide and suicide. The 2007 data indicated that during the 30 days preceding the survey, many high school students engaged in behaviors that increased their likelihood of death from these four causes:
11% had never or rarely worn a seatbelt when riding in a car driven by someone else;
29% had ridden in a car driven by someone who had been drinking alcohol; and
18% had carried a weapon.
In addition, in the 12 months preceding the survey:
7% had attempted suicide (down from 8.4% in 2005);
48% reported ever having sexual intercourse; and
39% had not used a condom at last sexual intercourse.
Among adults over 25 years old, 59% of all deaths result from cardiovascular disease and cancer, and we know that many habits that contribute to those causes of death start during adolescence. In particular, results show that in 2007 a total of 20% of high school students had smoked cigarettes during the 30 days preceding the survey and 79% had not eaten at least five servings of fruits or vegetables during the previous week, 65% were not getting enough exercise, and 13% were obese.