Results of the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey are now available from the Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI). Ninety-five percent of Montana middle schools participated and 94 percent of high schools participated. The biennial survey assists educators and health professionals in determining the prevalence of health-risk behaviors as self-reported by Montana middle and high school students. The areas of focus are behaviors that result in unintentional and intentional injury, tobacco use, alcohol and drug abuse, sexual behaviors that result in sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, physical inactivity, and dietary behaviors.

After reviewing the results, State Superintendent Elsie Arntzen stressed the importance of communities using their local data to positively serve their students:

“I am encouraged that in many areas of life, more Montana students are making healthy and safe decisions, however, this report confirms a strong need to promote mental health. These supports must begin early, especially in middle school,” Arntzen said Monday. “I urge schools, communities, and parents to use this information to serve the health, well-being, and success of all of our students. Under my Montana Hope initiative, the OPI will continue to partner in this important work.”

The ten-year trend shows fewer Montana students reporting risky driving behaviors (19 percent rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol, 29 percent in 2009), physical fighting, and being bullied on school property. Montana students increasingly report more mental health concerns and suicide ideation than ten years ago; 37 percent felt sad or hopeless for two weeks or more in a row (27 percent in 2009), 20 percent of high school students made a plan about how they would attempt suicide (13 percent in 2009), and 10 percent actually attempted suicide in the past 12 months (7 percent in 2011). In comparison, 31 percent of middle school students reported sad or hopeless feelings, 19 percent planned suicide, and 16 percent actually attempted suicide during the past year.

On the topic of tobacco use, fewer students are smoking cigarettes and cigars. 31 percent of high school students had ever tried cigarette smoking (50 percent in 2009), 8 percent of students currently smoke cigarettes (19 percent in 2009), and 8 percent of students currently smoke cigars (18 percent in 2009). Increasing rates of use are seen for all behaviors regarding electronic vapor products; 58 percent of students reported ever using an electronic vapor product (47 percent in 2017) and 30 percent currently use electronic vapor products (23 percent in 2017). Middle school students report that 20 percent had ever tried cigarette smoking, 5 percent currently smoke cigarettes, 28 percent had ever used an electronic vapor product, and 16 percent currently use electronic vapor products.

The two topics seeing nearly all 10-year trends improving is that of alcohol and other drug use, and sexual behaviors related to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. 33 percent of students reported having a drink of alcohol during the past 30 days (43 percnet in 2009); in addition, decreased rates of use were reported for marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, ecstasy, synthetic marijuana, steroids, and injectable illegal drugs. 44 percent of students reported having had sexual intercourse in their lifetime (48 percent in 2009). Among sexually active students, IUD use increased from 7 percent to 12 percent; however, condom use decreased from 68 percent to 56 percent. The middle school report shows that 14 percent of students drank alcohol during the past 30 days, 9 percent currently use marijuana and 10 percent had taken a prescription pain medicine without a doctor’s prescription in their lifetime. 14 percent of middle school students report having had sexual intercourse in their lifetime; 5 percent are currently sexually active.

Dietary and physical activity trends reveal behaviors that affect the increasing rates of Montana high school students who are overweight (13 percent) and obese (12 percent). Nutritional behaviors show that 34 percent of students did not eat a green salad during the past week (29% in 2009), and the percent of students that ate any vegetable one or more times a day during the past week decreased from 66 percent in 2009 to 62 percent in 2019. Fourteen percent of students did not eat breakfast on any of the past seven days. In addition to these declines in healthy nutrition practices, more students report sedentary behaviors; 37 percent of students played video or computer games for 3 or more hours per day on an average school day (18 percent in 2009). Fifty-one percent of high school students report being physically active at least 60 minutes per day on 5 or more of the past 7 days. Middle school data shows that, during the past seven days, 35 percent of students did not eat green salad, 44 percent ate breakfast daily, and 10 percent did not eat breakfast on any day.

Additional YRBS information can be found on the OPI’s website.

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