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Teen Risk Behavior and the Factors Associated With Increased and Decreased Risk

December 29, 2000

Protecting Teens: Beyond Race, Income, and Family Structure and a companion article in the American Journal of Public Health examines the unique and combined contributions of race/ethnicity, income, and family structure to adolescent cigarette smoking, alcohol use, involvement with violence, suicidal thoughts or attempts, and sexual intercourse.

The article is based on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (ADD Health), a comprehensive school-based study of the health-related behaviors of adolescents in the United States.

Data was collected from a nationally representative survey of 10,803 White, Black, and Hispanic youth in grades 7 through 12 who participated in in-home interviews between April and August of 1996.

Analysis

Sexual Intercourse

  • Reports of ever having had sexual intercourse increased dramatically with grade, from 16% among 7th and 8th graders to 60% among 11th and 12th graders, with a corresponding rise in risk of pregnancy and STDs.

Demographic Analyses

  • Black youth were more likely to have had intercourse than White or Hispanic youth.
  • Youth in wealthier families were less likely to have had intercourse than those in lower-income families.
  • Youth in single-parent families were more likely to have had intercourse than youth in two-parent families.
  • Among 7th and 8th graders, females were less likely to have had intercourse than males.

Cigarette Smoking

  • The prevalence of teens who smoke regularly nearly doubled between middle school and high school, from 19% in 7th and 8th grade to 37% in 11th and 12th grade.
  • Over half (55%) of the 7th and 12th graders in the study said they had never smoked a full cigarette.
  • One quarter of the sample (27%) reported having smoked in the 30 days prior to the study.
  • 18% of teens were former smokers.

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Demographic Analyses

  • White youth were more likely to smoke than Black or Hispanic youth.
  • Youth in wealthier families reported smoking less than youth in poorer families regardless of race, gender, or family structure.
  • Teens from single-parent homes were at increased risk for smoking regardless of grade, income, or gender.

Alcohol Use

  • Alcohol use more than doubled between middle school and high school, from 28% in 7th and 8th grade to 63% in the 11th and 12th grade.
  • 10% of teens reported that they drank weekly and another 8% reported that they drank 2-3 days per month.
  • Only half (53%) of 7th and 12th grade youth reported that they had not had a glass of beer, wine, or liquor in the past year prior to the study.

Demographic Analyses

  • White youth were likely to use alcohol more than Hispanic youth and much more than Black youth, regardless of gender.
  • Among 9th to 12th graders, youth from wealthier families reported more drinking than their lower-income peers.
  • Teens in single parent families were more likely to drink than those in two-parent families.
  • Among older adolescents, females used alcohol less frequently than same age males.

Suicidal Thoughts and Attempts

  • The percentage of youth reporting suicidal thoughts or attempts was relatively stable across grades, income levels, and family structure but varied with gender and race/ethnicity.
  • Overall, 13% of teens reported suicidal thoughts or attempts in the year prior to the study.
  • Of those teens, approximately one third indicated that they had already made at least one recent suicide attempt prior to the study.

Demographic Analyses

  • White and Hispanic youth were more likely than Black youth to report suicidal thoughts and attempts in all grades.
  • Among 9th and 12th graders, suicidal thoughts and attempts were slightly less common among youth from wealthier families.
  • Among 9th to 12th graders, suicidal thoughts and attempts were more common among youth from single-parent families.
  • Females were at greater risk than males (16% versus 9%), while White and Hispanic youth were at somewhat greater risk than Black youth (9% versus 7%) to have suicidal thoughts or attempts.
  • Females were more likely than males to report suicidal thoughts and attempts in every grade.

Analyses within each racial/ethnic group suggest that there was an association between income and first sexual debut. The study found that as income rose the rate of sexual intercourse declined. Further, the current findings suggest consistently higher use of both cigarettes and alcohol among teens from single-parent families. However, living in single-parent households was not a risk factor for alcohol use among Hispanic youth. Although concerns over suicide among both Hispanic and Black youths is rising, rates of suicide were significantly higher among While males than for other groups of adolescents.

In conclusion, some adolescent health risk behaviors appear disproportionately high among youth of color, lower-income adolescents, and those living in poverty. These demographic factors are not however, always good predictors of youth risk behavior. The authors note that people developing risk-reduction programs must look at the neighborhood, family, school, and both peer characteristics to truly understand the dynamics that contribute to specific risk behaviors.

For more information:

Protecting Teens: Beyond Race, Income, and Family Structure
Center for Adolescent Health
University of Minnesota
200 Oak Street S.E., Suite 260
Minneapolis, MN 55455
Phone: 612/626-2820
Fax: 612/626-2134
Web site: http://www.peds.umn.edu/peds-adol/
E-Mail: aph@umn.edu

R. W. Blum et al., "The Effects of Race/Ethnicity, Income and Family Structure on Adolescent Risk Behaviors," American Journal of Public Health, 90(12); pp. 1879-84.

Resources

Resources from the Kaiser Family Foundation's (KFF) Capitol Hill Briefing Series on HIV/AIDS. In recent months KFF sponsored a briefing series designed to provide Congressional staff with up-to-date information on the HIV/AIDS epidemic and an opportunity for the interchange of ideas with experts in the field. Based on the information in these briefings, KFF developed a series of fact sheets and issue briefs that are now available to the pubic.

New resources include:

  • The State of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in America. This issue brief provides an overview of AIDS cases and trends in the United States since the beginning of the epidemic, with particular attention to the impact of the epidemic on racial and ethnic minority Americans, women, and young people.
  • HIV/AIDS Research: Success Bringing New Changes. This issue brief provides an overview of key HIV/AIDS research issues and activities.
  • Financing HIV/AIDS Care: A Quilt with Many Holes. This issue brief provides an overview of how HIV/AIDS care is financed in the United States, including a discussion of spending, programs, and policy challenges.
  • Medicaid's Role for Persons with HIV/AIDS. This fact sheet examines the role of Medicaid in paying for and providing HIV/AIDS care, including information about coverage, eligibility, services, and spending.

For more information:

The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2400 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park, CA 94025; Phone: 650/854-9400; Fax: 650/854-4800; Web site: http://www.kff.org or contact their Publication Request Line: 800/656-4533.



  
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This article was provided by Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. It is a part of the publication SHOP Talk: School Health Opportunities and Progress Bulletin.
 
See Also
More Statistics on Young People and HIV/AIDS in the U.S.

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