Celeste Jorge, epidemiologist at the Connecticut Department of Public Health
Celeste Jorge, epidemiologist at the Connecticut Department of Public Health.

Connecticut high school students engaged less often in risky behaviors, like taking painkillers without a prescription, seriously considering suicide and texting or emailing while driving, when compared to their peers nationwide.

But Connecticut students more often carried a weapon and were offered, sold or given an illegal drug, both on school property. They also got less sleep than their peers on school nights, according to data released by the state and federal governments.

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the results of its 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is compiled using school-based surveys conducted across the country. In Connecticut, high school students completed a 99-item anonymous questionnaire in the spring of 2017.

“Most importantly, overall it looks like our teens fare better than their peers nationally,” said Celeste Jorge, an epidemiologist at the Connecticut Department of Public Health, who coordinates the survey. “What stands out is, although distracted driving rates seem to be improving, motor vehicle accidents are still the leading cause of death among this age group.

“Looking at academic success is so heavily tied to one’s health status,” Jorge said. “There’s emergent issues that we need to address, like prescription drug abuse and texting while driving, but we can’t lose sight of the importance of basic healthy habits, like nutrition and sleep.”

The national Youth Risk Behavior Survey is part of the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. The surveillance system was developed in 1990 to monitor health behaviors that contribute markedly to the leading causes of death, disability and social problems among youth and adults in the United States.

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These behaviors, often established during childhood and early adolescence, include:

  • Behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence.
  • Sexual behaviors related to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV infection.
  • Alcohol and other drug use.
  • Tobacco use.
  • Unhealthy dietary behaviors.
  • Inadequate physical activity.

In addition, the YRBSS monitors the prevalence of obesity and asthma and other health-related behaviors plus sexual identity and sex of sexual contacts.

From 1991 through 2017, the YRBSS has collected data from more than 4.4 million high school students in more than 1,900 separate surveys.

Connecticut vs. the nationwide data

  • In Connecticut, 33 percent of high school drivers texted or emailed while driving at least one day during the 30 days before the survey — 39.2 percent had done so nationwide.
  • When asked whether they had seriously considered attempting suicide over the last 12 months, 13.5 percent in Connecticut said they had, compared to 17.2 percent nationwide.
  • In Connecticut, 10.1 percent took prescription pain medicine without a doctor’s prescription or differently than how a doctor told them to use it, one or more times during their life — nationwide, 14 percent.
  • When asked whether they were offered, sold or given an illegal drug on school property during the 12 months before the survey, 28.6 percent of Connecticut high schoolers said yes, while 19.8 percent did nationwide.
  • In Connecticut, 5.4 percent of high school students said they had carried a weapon such as a knife, gun or club on school property, at least one day during the 30 days before the survey — nationwide, 3.8 percent.
  • Nationwide, 25.4 percent of high school students got eight or more hours of sleep on a school night, versus 20 percent in Connecticut.
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Mackenzie Rigg

Mackenzie is a former health reporter at CT Mirror. Prior to her time at CT Mirror, she covered health care, social services and immigration for the News-Times in Danbury and has more than a decade of reporting experience. She traveled to Uganda for the News-Times to report an award-winning five-part series about a Connecticut doctor's experience in Africa. A native of upstate New York, she started her journalism career at The Recorder in Greenfield, Mass., and worked at Newsday on Long Island for three years. She is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where she wrote her master's thesis about illegal detentions in Haiti's women's prison.

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