June 8 (Bloomberg) -- American teenagers are smoking and drinking less than they were 15 years ago, fewer have sex and the number who carry weapons has fallen, a survey found.
The percentage of high school students who engaged in these and other risky behaviors fell from 1991 to 2005, according to findings released today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Alcohol use, for example, fell to 43 percent last year from 51 percent in 1991.
Almost 14,000 students took part in the 2005 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is conducted every two years in public and private high schools across the U.S. The data are used to evaluate trends in risky behaviors as a way to shape school health programs.
``We're delighted that we're seeing some progress, but the realities are that the risk behavior levels are just way too high,'' said Howell Wechsler, director of CDC's division of adolescent and school health, on a conference call with reporters today. ``We have a lot more work to do.''
CDC officials called for more persistent efforts to put an end to teenage habits that they said may cause difficulties, injury or death if they are carried on into adulthood. For instance, the survey found that marijuana use rose to 20 percent in 2005 from just 15 percent in 1991, and cocaine use jumped to 3.4 percent from 1.7 percent.
Racial, Ethnic Disparities
Wechsler said he was also concerned about racial and ethnic disparities among risky behaviors reported in the survey. For example, black students were more likely to be sedentary or engage in sexual risk behaviors, while more white students were frequent smokers or engaged in heavy drinking.
Several behaviors examined in the survey, including driving after drinking alcohol and physical fighting, show that high school students are engaging in activities that may put their lives at risk, researchers said in the report.
About 71 percent of deaths involving people aged 10 to 24 in the U.S. are caused by motor-vehicle crashes, unintentional injuries, murder or suicide, according to the survey.
In a separate report today, the CDC urged state lawmakers and parents to enforce tougher restrictions for children and teens engaged in off-road dirt bike riding, which the agency said caused about 23,800 nonfatal injuries from 2001 to 2004.
The rate of injuries from off-road riding jumped 34 percent during this time period as the popularity of dirt bikes surged among white males under age 30, the CDC said.
To contact the reporter on this story:
Catherine Larkin in Washington at [email protected].
Last Updated: June 8, 2006 13:54 EDT