Hispanic teens try drugs, suicide at higher rates, survey says
ATLANTA ” Hispanic high school students use drugs and attempt suicide at higher rates than their black and white classmates, according to a new federal survey that shows a continuation of a trend.
“It is disheartening that we aren’t seeing progress among Hispanic teens for certain risk factors,” said Howell Wechsler of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a prepared statement.
The study is the latest in a series of surveys of U.S. high school students every two years. The new report noted black and white students are reporting less sexual activity that in years past, but there was no decline among Hispanics. Experts have not been able to find a clear explanation for that.
In addition, Hispanic students were more likely that either blacks or whites to attempt suicide, ride with a driver who had been drinking alcohol, or use cocaine, heroin or ecstasy.
Hispanics also most often drank alcohol on school property, were offered or sold illegal drugs, and occasionally skipped school because they feared for their safety.
The school environments many Hispanics face may differ considerably from what many blacks or whites encounter, noted Wechsler, director of the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health.
“There’s tremendous segregation in our schools,” Wechsler said, in an interview with The Associated Press.
The finding comes from a CDC survey of about 14,000 U.S. high school students that has been conducted every other year since 1991. Results reported Thursday were from last year’s survey.
Questionnaires go to students in grades 9-12 in public and private high schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Researchers got parental permission for each student who participated.
Adolescents cannot always be counted on to tell the truth about their sexual exploits, drug use, or other risky behaviors. But CDC officials say they take many steps to secure accurate responses: Participation is confidential, kids are spaced apart when answering the questions and teachers do not hover.
The survey asks about a wide variety of behaviors, including sunscreen use, seatbelt avoidance, drug use and suicide attempts.
Like the 2005 survey, the 2007 data showed higher rates of risk-taking by Hispanics in several areas. One example: About 10 to 11 percent of Hispanic students said they attempted suicide, compared with around 7 percent of whites and 8 percent of blacks.
However, whites reported the highest rates of smoking and heavy drinking, while blacks reported the highest rates of obesity, violence and sexual activity.
One striking behavior in which blacks fared the worst was television watching.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of daily TV viewing a day for kids. Physical activity is needed to develop mental and social skills and help prevent obesity, and TV violence has been associated with more aggressive behavior in children who watch a lot of it.
Overall, TV watching by high school students has been generally steady, with about 35 percent watching three or more hours a day.
But the new report shows that about 63 percent of black students watch three or more hours a day. In contrast, 43 percent of Hispanic students and 27 percent of whites watched too much TV, the report concluded.
“We don’t see that kind of gap” in virtually any other measurement of risky health behaviors, Wechsler said in the interview.
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