Alaska’s students are making their own lives better according to a national survey that assesses the risks they take in their daily lives. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows the state’s kids are smoking less, having less unprotected sex, taking fewer drugs and drinking less alcohol than in previous years.
Students in Alaska’s traditional high schools have made improvement in fourteen of the twenty risk categories that are considered by the federal Center for Disease Control. Statistically they showed no change in four categories. And the only component in which they showed an increase was the use of condoms.
The CDC began accumulating the Risk Behavior Data nationwide in 1990. And compared to students from the other forty two states that take part in it, Alaska’s students in the 2011 survey showed equal or lower risk in eighteen categories.
Wendy Hamilton coordinates the survey for the Department of Health and Social Services. She says improvements came about because of how the survey results have been used over the years.
It’s because of targeted interventions that agencies can make in those areas. In tobacco, in alcohol, targeted grant programs that get down in the community level can start making a difference in youth risk behavior.
The statewide survey anonymously asks about 15-hundred students in forty three schools about their own behavior. She says the data is broken out by region and district.
We do know that there is more smoking in the Southwest region. We do know there is more chew in the Southwest Region. In certain areas there’s more drinking than the state average. It gives communities a good bird’s eye view of what’s going on in their community and where they need to focus prevention activities and dollars.
Patty Owen is the Health and Safety Coordinator for the Department of Education and works with the survey results in targeting ways to improve violent conditions. She says it gives the Department, school districts and parents the evidence they need.
Looking at dating violence, we know that twelve percent of high school students have been physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the past year. And fifteen percent of students have been electronically bullied in the past twelve months. This is new information – we hear it, bit now we have the actual number. And we know about one in five high school students report being bullied on school property. So yeah, we look at that and then we look and see how we can decrease those numbers.
The survey also finds very different results for students in alternative schools – those for students considered “at-risk.” Where in traditional schools, 24 percent of students had been in a fight in the previous year, in alternative schools the survey showed 44 percent had fought. Other comparisons show 14 percent of traditional students had smoked, 48 percent of alternative students had smoked.
Alternative schools had not been included for study prior to 2009 so there’s not enough evidence to show any trend. However, Owen says there is enough information to focus efforts on some of those categories.