Health Update

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Teenagers More Astute About Effects of Drug Use: Attitudes about drugs among teenagers are changing for the better, and teenage drug use is leveling off, according to recent survey.

The 1999 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, an annual survey by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, found that 40 percent of teenagers polled strongly agreed that "kids who really are cool don't use drugs," compared with 35 percent who said the same last year.

The number of teenagers who strongly agreed with the statement that "in my school, marijuana users are popular" dropped significantly, from 17 percent last year to 10 percent this year. Teenagers in 1999 are also more likely to see specific risks in marijuana use, the survey found, such as trouble with the law or parents.

Drug use among youths leveled off between 1998 and 1999, with some significant declines over the past two years as well, according to the survey. Marijuana use among poll respondents dropped to 33 percent in 1999, down from 36 percent two years ago. Past-year use of inhalants dropped to 11 percent this year, down from 15 percent two years ago.

"Across the board, teenagers are disassociating drugs from critically important badges of teen identity," said James E. Burke, the chairman of the partnership.

The study surveyed 6,529 teenagers, ages 13 to 18, and has a margin of error of 1.8 percentage points. The report is available online at ts99_page1.html#. Requires Microsoft's Powerpoint.

Teenage Pregnancy: The U.S. teenage birthrate reached a near-record low in 1998, falling 18 percent since 1991, according to a report by the National Center for Health Statistics.

Young women ages 15 to 19 gave birth at a rate of 51.1 live births per 1,000, 2 percent lower than in 1997.

African-American teenagers showed the steepest drop, recording the lowest rate since 1960, the first year such data were collected. Since 1991, the birthrate for black 15- to 19-year-olds declined 26 percent—from 111.5 births per 1,000 in 1991 to 85.3 per 1,000 last year. The rate for Hispanic girls, 93.7 in 1998, has decreased steadily since 1994, dropping 13 percent in the past four years.

Overall declines come after the adolescent birthrate overall climbed to 62.1 in 1991.

Experts attribute the decline to a reduction in sexual activity and increased use of contraceptives, said John Hutchins, a spokesman for the National Campaign To Prevent Teen Pregnancy, an advocacy organization based in Washington.

For 15- to 17-years-olds, the birthrate dropped 5 percent from 1991 to 1998, that cohort's lowest level in 40 years. The rate for girls ages 10 to 14 dropped to its lowest since 1969.

Not all the news coming out of the health-statistics center last month was rosy. The proportion of births to unwed teenagers continued to rise last year. According to preliminary data, unmarried mothers accounted for 78.8 percent of all births to teenagers, up slightly from 78.2 percent in 1997.

State variations were sizable, according to the report. In 1997—the most recent year for state-specific data—the birthrates per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19 ranged from 26.9 in Vermont to 73.7 in Mississippi. The variance in overall rates reflects the proportion of minority teenagers living in each state.

Mr. Hutchins points out that U.S. birthrates for teenagers are still higher than in other industrialized countries. "We still have a long way to go,'' he said.

Adolescent Obesity: Teenage girls who try to lose weight through dieting, use of appetite suppressants and laxatives, and vomiting are more likely to gain weight over time and are actually at greater risk for the onset of obesity, according to a study.

The study, by researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and Stanford University, appears in the December issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association.

Researchers studied 692 9th grade girls in three Northern California high schools who were told the study was designed to investigate student health beliefs and behaviors. The participants were evaluated for three years. Evaluations included self-report questionnaires and height and weight measurements.

Those who reported elevated dieting and radical weight-loss efforts were more likely to gain weight than those who did not report such efforts. One possible explanation for the study's findings was that such weight-reduction efforts in teenagers may be a marker for a propensity to become obese.

—Adrienne D. Coles [email protected]

Vol. 19, Issue 16, Page 13

Published in Print: December 15, 1999, as Health Update
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