|For Immediate Release|
|Thursday, June 6, 1996|
Massachusetts Department Of Education Releases 1995 Statistics On Student Health And Safety
Malden - A spring, 1995 survey of Massachusetts high school students released by the state Department of Education shows mixed results for student health and safety over the past five years.
On one hand, there is some good news about certain student risk behaviors: more students are using seat belts always or most of the time (up from 28.4% in 1990 to 49.5% in 1995); students who have been taught about AIDS and HIV in school are more likely to refrain from sexual activity or protect themselves if they are active; and, while the numbers are still too high, weapon carrying and physical fighting rates have not shown any statistically significant increase in recent years.
On the other hand, there is disappointing and troubling news as well: recent tobacco use is up (from 28.9% of students who reported having smoked cigarettes on one or more days in the past month in the 1990 survey to 37.0% who reported having smoked in the month prior to their 1995 survey). National data on recent tobacco use, released at the end of May by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showed a similar increase among teenagers across the country, up from 27.5% in 1991 to 34.8% in 1995.
Also, alcohol use is up (from 27.5% of students in 1993 who drank at least five alcoholic drinks in a row at least once in the past month, to 33.4% in 1995), and marijuana use has increased (in 1990, 17.4% of students reported they had used marijuana in the past month, and in 1995 the percentage increased to 32.4%).
Focusing on the tobacco statistics, while the increase in the percentage of students who reported smoking in the past month did show a significant and troubling increase, there was no statistically significant increase in the number of students who are regular smokers. (The percentage of students who smoked daily in the month prior to the 1990 survey was 14%, and the increase to 15.3% in 1995 is not statistically significant.) Also, 42% of Massachusetts high school students have never smoked a whole cigarette, according to the 1995 survey. In addition, in Massachusetts students under age 18 who tried to buy cigarettes from a store were twice as likely to be asked for proof of their age (44.7%) as their peers across the country (22.5%).
"Certainly, we had hoped for better results on the tobacco front. We need to be sure tax funds are being used effectively," said Robert V. Antonucci, Commissioner of Education. "But it is important to emphasize that behavioral changes are going to be affected gradually. It may take four or five years to change behaviors, according to consumer researchers. Furthermore, most high school students who participated in the spring, 1995 survey had not benefitted fully from newly implemented tobacco prevention efforts targeted especially at the elementary and middle school levels," Antonucci added.
Since 1993, an excise tax on tobacco products has generated the Health Protection Fund, which has enabled the Department of Education and Department of Public Health to assist school districts across the state to implement health education and tobacco-prevention programs. The programs began in the 1993-1994 school year.
The report also concluded that students who engage in risk behaviors prior to age 13 are significantly more likely than their peers to engage in risk behaviors during the high school years.
"Educators need to work effectively with parents, communities and students at an early age to make a difference in helping convince students to avoid dangerous, unhealthy or irresponsible behaviors," Antonucci added. "The study results on tobacco use underscore the continuing and urgent need to protect our children from tobacco, and the Health Protection program is the only tool we have in schools to do this job," he noted. "Also, we cannot overlook the fact that the tobacco industry spends $100 million a year in Massachusetts alone to promote smoking"
The Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey, conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Education in 59 randomly selected public high schools in the spring of 1995, included 4,159 student participants. Students participated on an anonymous and voluntary basis. Because the sample was scientifically selected, results are generalizable statewide.
The 1995 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey Report can be viewed on the
Department's web site on the Internet (http://www.doe.mass.edu/).