Less sex, drugs and booze for high school kids

WASHINGTON Wed Jun 4, 2008 3:26pm EDT

A young man smokes marijuana before the 10th annual ''Marijuana March'' in downtown Toronto May 3, 2008. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

A young man smokes marijuana before the 10th annual ''Marijuana March'' in downtown Toronto May 3, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Mark Blinch

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Fewer U.S. high school students are having sex or using drugs and alcohol compared to the 1990s, but Latinos are not sharing in many areas of progress, health officials said on Wednesday.

For the students overall, just under half have had sex, 75 percent have tried alcohol and 20 percent smoke, the government survey found.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention questioned 14,041 students in grades nine through 12 in 39 states in spring 2007 on a range of risky behaviors in a survey it has conducted every two years since 1991.

In 1991, 54 percent of the high school students said they had ever had sexual intercourse, compared to 48 percent in 2007. In 1991, 19 percent said they had at least four sexual partners, compared to 15 percent last year, the survey showed.

But there were major racial and ethnic disparities.

Sixty-six percent of black high school students said they had ever had sex, the highest of any of the groups, although it was down from 82 percent in 1991, the CDC said. In addition, 28 percent of blacks in 2007 said they had sex with four or more people during their lifetime, down from 43 percent in 1991.

Forty-four percent of white students reported ever having sexual intercourse, down from 50 percent in 1991. And the number with at least four sex partners fell to 12 percent from 15 percent in 1991.

But Latinos made no such progress. In 1991, 53 percent reporting having sex at least once, compared to 52 percent in 2007. And the number of Latinos who had sex with four or more people during their life was 17 percent in 1991 and 2007.

Compared to either blacks or whites, Latinos were more likely to have reported attempting suicide, using cocaine, heroin or the drug ecstasy or riding with a driver who had been drinking alcohol, the CDC said.

NEEDS OF HISPANICS

Latinos are the largest and fastest growing minority in the United States. They make up 15 percent of overall population, and about 20 percent of children.

"It's extremely important that our schools and community programs understand and address the health-related needs of our Hispanic students," Howell Wechsler, director of CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Health, told reporters.

The survey showed that much of the progress in reducing sexual activity occurred in the 1990s and there has been no reduction among high school students overall this decade, in fact showing small increases since 2001. However, the survey found that more sexually active teens reported using condoms.

The survey said 20 percent of the high school students had used marijuana at least once in the prior month -- up from the 15 percent in 1991 but down from a peak of 27 percent in 1999. In addition, 38 percent said they had ever used marijuana, more than in 1991 but down from 47 percent in 1999.

Seven percent of the students said they had ever used cocaine, down from 10 percent in 1999, and 4 percent had used methamphetamine, down from 10 percent in 2001.

Twenty percent reported being current cigarette smokers, down from 28 percent in 1991. In addition, 45 percent said they had least one drink of alcohol in the prior month, down from 51 percent in 1991. And 75 percent said they tried alcohol at least once, down from 82 percent in 1991.

The survey also found more and more teenagers are using a seat belt while in a car, fewer have carried a weapon, and the percent who have attempted suicide has fallen from 9 percent in 2001 to 7 percent last year.

(Editing by Maggie Fox and Cynthia Osterman)

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