Current prEvents – February 15, 2016 – Times Argus

Watching out for Vermont Kids with the YRBS
Youth Risk Behavior Survey Shows Trends

By Ginny Burley, Prevention Specialist with Central Vermont New Directions Coalition in Montpelier

The state of Vermont cares about our kids and what is going on in their lives that shape their attitudes and decisions. There is a system in place so that current trends can be followed which can provide information which can be used by schools, parents, doctors, communities, and prevention coalitions. Every two years since 1993, the Vermont Department of Health and the Agency of Education administer the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) to measure factors that contribute to death, disease and injury among youth. The survey helps us work on ways to help youth become more resilient, reduce risky behavior, and promote healthy behavior. There are two surveys – one for high school, and one for middle school. Most schools in Vermont participate. The YRBS results have become the gold standard for information about drug and alcohol use, safety, bullying, suicide, and many other behaviors.

Before we start looking at the latest results, let’s look at a few more basics of the YRBS.

Why should we believe the YRBS? Don’t kids lie? The YRBS is extremely reliable. The information is confidential; the testing is done in a safe way; the test looks for internal consistency to weed out bad data. A very small percentage of inconsistent data is found and removed. Most important, the survey results are very consistent with data on actual health outcomes – what actually is happening with youth.

Straight from the YRBS report: “What, not Why: The YRBS can indicate what students are doing. It can also suggest which groups of students are more likely to engage in these behaviors. However, the survey does not answer why they are doing it. We encourage students to analyze their own data and offer insight into the results.” See the link to “Getting to Y.”

Let’s see what we can learn from the 2015 High School YRBS. The YRBS measures many different things. We’ll look at a few significant items, share the numbers, and see if there are any big trends.

Bullying and electronic bullying: Trending flat

In the past 30 days, 18% of students reported being bullied, more girls than boys. Bullying decreases as kids get older. 16% of students were bullied electronically (cyber-bullying). Girls were twice as likely to have been electronically bullied as boys. This number has not changed for the past few years

Suicide and Depression: Trending up

In the past 12 months, 24% of all students felt sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks; 12% made a suicide plan. Females were almost twice as likely as males to report feeling sad or hopeless, and to make a plan to attempt suicide. Following a decrease from 1995 to 2005, students making a suicide plan has significantly increased since 2005 and again since 2013.

Distracted Driving: Trending down

Among those who drove a car or other vehicle during the last 30 days, one third reported texting or emailing at least once. By twelfth grade, 50% of students who drove reported texting or emailing. The good news is that texting while driving significantly decreased between 2013 and 2015.

Alcohol: Some good news

Alcohol remains a problem. Nearly a third of students drank alcohol in the past 30 days. There were no differences by gender. Use goes up as students get older: each grade reports significantly higher use than the previous grade. The good news: alcohol use in the past 30 days declined significantly since 2005 and went down even further from 2013 to 2015, an overall drop in 10 years from 42% to 30%. Binge Drinking, more prevalent among males, also declined from 25% to 16% since 2005, including a 3% drop since the 2013 survey.

Tobacco: Cigarettes are trending down, but e-cigarettes are on the rise

21% of all students have ever smoked a cigarette. 11% are current users, down from 18% in 2005 and down from 13% in 2013 – a healthy trend. 42% of them have tried to quit. The bad news: while smoking is declining, use of e-cigarettes, or vapes, is on the rise – rapidly. 30% of students have ever used them (more boys than girls) and 15% are current users.

Marijuana: Trending flat

37% have ever used marijuana. By 12th grade, that is up to 49%. One in 5 (22%) used marijuana at least one time during the past 30 days. However, four out of five students believed more students use marijuana than actually do. Misunderstanding the norms – how many people actually do something – can lead to increased use as teens try to fit in. Those who use marijuana, use a lot of it: In the past 30 days, nearly a third (31%) of current users smoked marijuana one or two times; almost half (45%) used it 10 or more times.

Access: Overall, about two-thirds of students believe it would be sort of easy or very easy to get cigarettes (61%), alcohol (69%), and marijuana (62%).

Perception of Harm:

When teens think something is harmful, they are less likely to use it. Perceived harm from smoking cigarettes each day increased from 2013 to 2015. Perceived harm caused by using marijuana regularly decreased from 2013 to 2015. Perceived as harmful were tobacco (65%), binge drinking (38%), and marijuana (27%).

Perception of Parental Disapproval:

When teens think their parents disapprove of something, they are less likely to use it. Perceived parental disapproval of drinking alcohol and using marijuana decreased from 2013 to 2015. Parents can have a great influence on their kids!

Prescription Drug Misuse:

11% of all students took a substance that was not prescribed for them. Pain reliever misuse decreased significantly from 2013 to 2015, but stimulant misuse (Ritalin, Adderall, etc.) remained the same.

Links and Resources:

You can look for the Middle School results, as well as county level and supervisory union level reports, at the Department of Health website:

“Getting to ‘Y’” provides a manual for student groups looking to analyze and leverage their own YRBS data – it can be found here:

Current PrEvents is produced by the Central Vermont New Directions Coalition, Montpelier, Vermont, in collaboration with the Washington County Youth Service Bureau, as part of the Partnership for Success grant from the Vermont Department of Health.

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