More smoking, sex among Ohio teens

State youths engage in more risky behavior than national average.

Ohio ranks fifth highest among the 36 states with information available. The national average is 47.4 percent.

Ohio high schoolers also are more likely to be heavier tobacco users, not wear seat belts while passengers in automobiles, or be seriously injured by a suicide attempt. They’re less likely to get regular exercise or consume as many fruits and vegetables as the U.S. average.

Those are among the findings of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) on self-reported behavior for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released earlier this month. The study has been done every two years since 1991.

While an Ohio Department of Health spokeswoman said the state tries to improve upon its numbers in each survey, no official would comment directly on the increase in sexual activity.

“It’s challenging to pin down exactly why any particular category increases or decreases,” said Ohio Department of Health spokeswoman Tessie Pollock. “There are environmental factors that have an immediate impact on the decisions of the youth in Ohio, but then there are much larger systemic causes that will take change in an entire community.”

Sexual activity

Ohio high schoolers are above the national averages both in reporting they’ve ever had sex or have had sex in the three months before the study.

Ohio reported 41.8 percent had sexual intercourse with at least one person in the three months before the study compared to 33.7 nationally.

The numbers of whether they’d ever had sex fluctuated from 47.8 percent in 2005 to 44.5 percent in 2007 to 54.4 percent in 2011. Ohio did not participate in the 2009 survey.

Pollock said her department started an abstinence education program in 2010 with a federal grant but that it had no impact on the 2011 YRBS survey.

Sex education in school districts is the responsibility of local leaders, Pollack said: “It’s up to the individual communities as far as what kind of sexual education curriculum they would want in their districts.”

Ohio law states “venereal disease education” must emphasize that abstinence from sexual activity is the only protection that is 100 percent effective against unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, and the sexual transmission of the virus that causes AIDS.

The code also said sex education courses must stress abstinence until after marriage and address the potential side effects of sex out of wedlock, among other requirements.

Ohio’s rank of fifth highest for those who have ever had sexual intercourse is behind only Delaware (59 percent), Mississippi (57.9), Alabama (57.6) and South Carolina (56.6) among the 36 states with information available.

The five states at the low end of the scale were Colorado (40.8 percent), Idaho (40), Alaska (38.3), Nebraska (37.1) and Hawaii (37).

Other Ohio data

Ohio school-age teens reported 9.5 percent smoked cigarettes on 30 or more days before the survey compared to 6.4 nationally. More had also smoked before age 13 (14.2 percent to 10.3) and used chewing tobacco, snuff or dip (12.2 percent to 7.7).

Pollock said initiatives are under way to make high school and college campuses smoke-free. She said the CDC suggests looking at the root causes of some risky behaviors.

“It’s a lot easier to not smoke if you have a job or don’t have extra stresses in your life and then you’re ready to quit smoking.” Pollock said. “It’s addressing the whole person ... not just taking a stab at the symptoms, but the causes.”

Bruce Barcelo of Public Health — Dayton & Montgomery County said tobacco remains the most preventable cause of death in the United States. “That age range continues to smoke at a higher rate,” Barcelo said, adding that teen smokers are at a disadvantage when they try to work for tobacco-free employers who are trying to limit health care costs.

Ohio high schoolers scored low on how many had consumed 100 percent fruit juice and vegetables in several categories.

The Children’s Medical Center of Dayton showed similar results in preteens.

A pediatric health assessment survey of 600 area families showed that 90 percent of children 14 and younger are eating two or fewer vegetables per day.

“I’m sure that follows through (to high school),” said Jessica Saunders, Injury Prevention Coordinator at Dayton Children’s. “We really want kids to eat their five fruits and vegetables, at least, per day.”

Pollock pointed to a 2011 report from the CDC that she said sheds light on children’s nutritional habits. For instance, Ohio has the highest percentage (nearly 75) of schools in the country that advertise less healthy foods. Half of Ohio children 6 years and older have televisions in their bedrooms.

Pollock said three-quarters of high schools in Ohio offer sugary drinks, but that will change in the next two years as Ohio’s Healthy Choices for Healthy Children legislation goes into effect.

Ohio students reported 16.7 percent rarely or never wore a seat belt when riding in a vehicle driven by someone else. The national average was 7.7 percent. Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death among youths.

“Some parents don’t turn the car on until everyone’s buckled up,” Saunders said. “There’s a lot of ways to really make it a habit so that by the time your child becomes a driver, they’re ready. It would be like second nature.”

When it came to physical education classes, 64.3 percent of Ohio high schoolers had not participated in any in the past week compared to 48.2 nationally.

“I know that a lot of high schools have done away with your typical physical education,” said Saunders, who recommends one hour per day of exercise.

“By the time you get to high school, if you’re not in an organized sport and then you’re not getting (regular) physical education, when are these kids having some time for physical activity?”

Barcelo said the GetUp and 5-2-1-Almost None program addresses several teen behaviors. “It’s just a healthy lifestyle prescription ... of what to focus on for a healthy life.” “Five” is for five fruits and vegetables, “two” is for two hours of screen time (TV, online, etc.) , “one” is for an hour of exercise and “almost none” for nearly no sugary drinks.

The effort’s partners include more than 120 organizations including churches, hospitals and YMCAs. Barcelo said a pilot program is starting in Kettering and Dayton Public Schools.

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-6951 or mgokavi@DaytonDaily News.com.

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