Student Well-Being

Health Update

March 07, 2001 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Study Examines U.S., European Teens’ Smoking, Drug Use

American students smoke fewer cigarettes and consume less alcohol than their European peers, but they use marijuana and other illegal drugs more, according to a recent comparison of European and American studies on teenage drug and alcohol use.

For More Information

A detailed summary of the report, “European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Drugs” is available from the World Health Organization’s European Ministerial Conference on Young People and Alcohol. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Thoroddur Bjarnason, an assistant professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Albany and a member of the steering board of the European study, said the American-European comparison is important because it showed global trends that can affect how nations and schools implement drug policies and prevention efforts.

The European study, called “European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Drugs,” surveyed drug use of 10th graders in 30 European countries. It was released last month at a conference of the World Health Organization. Conducted in 1999, it was designed to be similar to “Monitoring the Future,” the widely cited annual study of American 10th graders’ drug use, in order to allow for comparisons between the European countries and the United States.

According to the researchers, 26 percent of U.S. 10th graders had smoked at least one cigarette in the 30 days before the survey, while an average of 37 percent of European 10th graders had had a cigarette over a similar period.

Forty percent of American students had used alcohol sometime in the 30 days prior to when the survey was taken, compared with 61 percent of their European peers.

On the other hand, 41 percent of the U.S. students reported having used marijuana at least once in their lifetimes, while only 17 percent of the European students had used it.

Moreover, according to the comparison, 23 percent of American 10th graders reported they had used some other form of illegal drug in their lifetimes, while only 6 percent of their European peers reported illegal drug use.

Despite those differences, Mr. Bjarnason emphasized that “we cannot think of this as a simple supply problem.”

He pointed out that countries with more liberal drug-use policies, such as the Netherlands, which allows marijuana use under certain circumstances, do not show much higher levels of marijuana use than countries with very strict policies.

For instance, the United States—which has strict laws forbidding the use of marijuana—had the highest marijuana use, at 41 percent, compared with the Netherlands’ 28 percent.

Addressing the differences in rates of smoking, Mr. Bjarnason pointed out that the decline in cigarette smoking in the United States correlates both with anti-smoking efforts here and with a significant rise in smoking in Eastern European countries, where “a new market for cigarettes seems to have opened up.”

According to Mr. Bjarnason, such trans-Atlantic comparisons are significant, especially if one country shows drug or alcohol use leveling off, but other countries show increases in use. A country that held drug use steady is actually making progress against drugs, he observed.

Junk foods sold in schools jeopardize children’s health as well as the federal school lunch program’s viability and effectiveness, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the school lunch program.

For More Information

Major findings from the report “Foods Sold in Competition with USDA School Meal Programs: A Report To Congress,” are available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The report analyzes the effect of so-called “competitive foods,” such as sodas, candy, and salty snacks, which are often available from vending machines located in school cafeterias or hallways.

The report, “Foods Sold in Competition with USDA School Meal Programs: A Report To Congress,” argues that such beverages and snacks have minimal nutritional value and contribute to health risks in children, such as obesity, high cholesterol, and poor bone development.

“National School Lunch Program participation is associated with higher average intakes of many nutrients, both at lunch and over 24 hours,” the report says, but “competitive foods undermine the nutrition integrity of the programs and discourage participation.”

But persuading schools to get rid of junk food entirely could be a difficult task, the report concedes, because, in many places, sales of those items generate money for the schools. “This puts schools in the position of competing with their own school meal programs for revenue,” the report says.

The report concludes with a review of current federal and state laws and regulations governing competitive foods.

—Vanessa Dea

A version of this article appeared in the March 07, 2001 edition of Education Week as Health Update


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being In Their Own Words These Students Found Mental Health Support in After-School Programs. See How
3 students discuss how after-school programs benefit their well-being.
6 min read
Vector illustration of a woman sitting indian style with her arms spread wide and a rainbow above her head.
Student Well-Being Cellphone Headaches in Middle Schools: Why Policies Aren't Enough
Middle schoolers' developmental stage makes them uniquely vulnerable to the negative aspects of cellphones. Policies alone won't help.
6 min read
A student holds a cell phone during class at Bel Air High School in Bel Air, Md., on Jan. 25, 2024.
A student holds a cellphone during class at Bel Air High School in Bel Air, Md., on Jan. 25, 2024.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week
Student Well-Being Teachers Want Parents to Step Up to Curb Cellphone Misuse. Are They Ready?
A program from the National PTA aims to partner with schools to give parents resources on teaching their children healthy tech habits.
5 min read
Elementary students standing in line against a brick wall using cellphones and not interacting.
Student Well-Being Schools Feel Less Equipped to Meet Students' Mental Health Needs Than a Few Years Ago
Less than half of public schools report that they can effectively meet students’ mental health needs.
4 min read
Image of a student with their head down on their arms, at a desk.
Olga Beliaeva/iStock/Getty