Surprising Trends for Youth Risk
With the exception of inhalant use, the CDC summary indicates that the use of drugs has dropped over the past several years, following increases between 1991 and 1999. However, the summary I saw did not include prescription medication abuse, which I imagine has substantially increased (this is anecdotal, based on recent experience tutoring high-school students in Marin County).
What was more surprising to me were the changes in sexual behavior. During High School I was involved with STARS (Students Today Aren't Ready for Sex), and abstinence education program for middle schoolers. I'll note that I actually don't support abstinence-only education, which is why the findings are so surprising to me. While abstinence-only education has been on the rise since 1996, several markers of youth sexual behavior are improving.
Here is a summary of the summary:
- Fewer youth report ever having sex
- Fewer youth have had sex with more than four partners
- The number of youth who used a condom at the last sexual encounter has been increasing
- Fewer youth have been taught about HIV/AIDS
The first three of those findings are very encouraging, indicating that youth are acting more responsibly towards sexual activity. However, the fact that fewer students are being taught about HIV/AIDS is certainly worrisome. This may be due to the fact that AIDS is no longer the death sentence that it was in the late 80's and early 90's. This is a concept that we have talked about at length in medical school. Because it can be treated fairly effectively now, many people see it as a chronic disease as opposed to a death sentence and are not as fearful about contracting it. This may be an explanation why it has fallen out of favor in sex education. Regardless of the reason, this should be an avenue for further improvement.
Of course, none of this proves that abstinence-only education is the cause of the improvement, but it does open my eyes a little.