Taking risks is part of being a teenager.
In fact, it might be hardwired into their brains.
A 2010 study involving a range of people — adolescents to adults — found those prone to take the most risks in a virtual gambling game were 14-year-olds.
They have stronger emotions associated with their decisions, researchers say, but their decision-making skills are still developing.
While risk-taking may help these youngsters establish their own boundaries, it can also start them off on bad habits that will continue into adulthood, possibly shaping their health for the rest of their lives.
The latest report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows teens continue to engage in risky behaviors, but what those behaviors are, and who is engaging in them, continues to change.
One of the most glaring differences in this generation compared to others is the rate of obesity.
A third of children in the United States are considered overweight or obese. While some of their eating and drinking habits are improving, other important health risk factors remain a concern.
The latest version of the CDC’s National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), released last week, shows the distractions of phones remain a concern.
Across the nation, 42 percent of students who reported driving in the past 30 days reported they texted or emailed while behind the wheel, a number that hasn’t changed since 2013.
Those rates vary across the United States. Across 35 states, 26 to 63 percent of teen drivers reported texting while driving.
This is of special concern, as accidents remain the leading cause of death for teens, the CDC states. Other leading causes are suicide and homicide.
Accidental deaths include drug overdoses, a larger problem overall in the United States as opioid painkiller deaths remain at epidemic levels.
However, prescription drug use among youth decreased from 20 percent in 2009 to 17 percent in 2015. Still, those children and teens report taking drugs like OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, codeine, Adderall, Ritalin, or Xanax without a doctor’s prescription one or more times.
As a whole, accidental deaths are at an all-time high, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). In 2014, that translated to 136,053 lives lost.
"Losing someone every four minutes to an injury we know how to prevent is unacceptable," said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and chief executive officer of the National Safety Council, said in a press release.
For people ages 5 to 24, motor vehicle crashes remain the most common cause of preventable deaths, according to the NSC.
Cigarettes have always been a popular form of teen rebellion and risk-taking.
Most smokers get their start in their teen years, whether trying to emulate a fashionable movie star or wanting to be part of the “cool” crowd.
The popularity of traditional cigarettes among high school students has dropped to its lowest levels since the YRBS began in 1991. It’s gone from 28 percent in 1991 to 11 percent in 2015.
However, the report shows electronic vapor products — including e-cigarettes — may be taking the place of traditional tobacco products.
Now, about 24 percent of high school students report using e-cigarettes during the past month.
“Current cigarette smoking is at an all-time low, which is great news. However, it’s troubling to see that students are engaging in new risk behaviors, such as using e-cigarettes,” Dr. Tom Frieden, CDC director, said in a press release. “We must continue to invest in programs that help reduce all forms of tobacco use, including e-cigarettes, among youth.”
While public health campaigns have often focused on tobacco cigarettes, new ones hope to warn teens that while e-cigarettes may not contain tobacco, they still contain the highly addictive substance nicotine.
A study released Monday found that older teens who try e-cigarettes are six times more likely to try traditional cigarettes than those who never tried either.
The study also found that, on average, 729 children under the age of 6 were exposed to, or accidentally ingested, tobacco each month.
In May, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) extended its regulatory authority to include all tobacco-related products, including e-cigarettes, which limits sales to minors across the nation.
States such as Hawaii and California have recently raised the age to buy or use tobacco or nicotine containing products to 21. The move, according to supporters, is to keep tobacco out of the hands of high school-aged teens.