US: Like us, young continue to take risks

"Why can't they be like we are; Perfect in every way. What's the matter with kids today?"

These lyrics from the 1963 musical "Bye, Bye Birdie" reflect the attitude of many older folks that the young generation just isn't as stalwart as we were when we walked five miles to school each day, through the snow and uphill both ways.

Now a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that today's kids face a different set of risks and fears than we did.

The centers' report, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance notes that during the 12 months before the survey, 31.5% of high school students had been in a physical fight and 6.3% had attempted suicide while almost 10% rarely or never wore a seat belt when riding in a car driven by someone else.

During the 30 days before the survey, 28% of high school students rode in a car or other vehicle driven by someone who had been drinking alcohol, 17.5% had carried a weapon and 412% had drunk alcohol while 21% had used marijuana.

The survey found more than one in three of US high schools students were currently sexually active and almost 40% of these had not used a condom during their last sexual intercourse. More than 7% had been physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to although the figure for females was nearly 11%, compared with the 4.5% for male students.

Even though only 2% of the students had injected an illegal drug at some time in their life, nearly one in five had smoked cigarettes during the 30 days before the survey.

Other findings were that 82% of the students were not physically active for at least 60 minutes a day on all seven days in each week although a third attended physical education classes daily.

The survey found that more than one in every eight US students were obese and that 16% were overweight. Overall, the prevalence of obesity was higher among male (15.3%) than female (8.3%) students while at the same time 44.4% of the students said they were trying to lose weight.

Nationwide, 11% of students did not eat for 24 or more hours to lose weight or to keep from gaining weight during the 30 days before the survey.

The report says that during 2003-2009, a significant linear increase occurred in the percentage of students who used computers three or more hours day, increasing from 22% to almost 25%."

These results may partly answer the question, "What's the matter with kids today?" But a similar survey from our youth would find we were not "perfect in every way" either.

* John Richard Schrock teaches at Empora State University in Kansas.