Report Roundup: Teen Risk-Taking: A Statistical Portrait

Amy Bracken
July 1, 2000

High School students today take fewer health risks overall than students did a decade ago, with fewer of them regularly engaging in more than one harmful activity, says this analysis of youth behavior studies. Not surprisingly, researchers found that the majority of adolescent risk-taking is by a minority of students who engage in multiple risks, such as smoking, fighting or using drugs. Between 1991 and 1997, the report says, the percentage of teens who did not engage in any of the 10 risk behaviors studied rose from 20 to 25 percent. But as an example of multiple risk-takers, the study found that among the 11 percent of high schoolers who smoke, 85 percent engage in at least one other risk behavior. Overall, Hispanic youth engage in risks more often than do whites or African Americans.

The writers use these findings to stress the importance of treating a teen’s participation in one risk behavior as a warning sign of likely involvement in more risk behaviors, and to focus on the “co-occurrence” of risk behaviors in each youth, rather than trying to treat several behaviors in isolation. They also stress the need to better use and expand the network of health, recreation and educational services to reach youth engaged in these behaviors. The report is based on analysis of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveys by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, and the National Survey of Adolescent Males. It was conducted by Laura Duberstine Lindberg, Scott Boggess, Laura Porter and Sean Williams. Free from the Urban Institute, 2100 M St., NW, Washington, DC 20037. (202) 261-5709.

Bracken, Amy. "Teen Risk-Taking: A Statistical Portrait." Report Roundup. Youth Today, July/August 2000, p. 31.

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