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Fewer B.C. teens smoking, drinking

Abuse rates still a concern, according to new health survey



Youth are in good health, feeling connected to their families, and are waiting longer to try smoking, sex and drugs.

These are just some of the findings of the recently released McCreary Centre Society Adolescent Health Survey (AHS), which was last done in 1998.

"Eighty-four per cent feel healthy and good," said Annie Smith, executive director of the Centre.

"The majority has really high self esteem.

"Injuries are down too so these are all really good messages.

"Risk taking behaviour is also down.

"They are waiting longer to have sex, they are drinking less, they are smoking less, so I think there are some really positive messages in there."

The AHS, which was administered by public health nurses, was completed by over 29,000 Grade 7-12 students across 50 of B.C.'s 59 school districts. The results have been weighted to represent 200,000 youth.

In all, nurses were in 1,760 classrooms across B.C., including those in Sea to Sky. Taking the survey was voluntary.

One of the most encouraging findings in the survey was a decrease in the percentage of youth seriously considering or attempting suicide.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth aged 12-18 in British Columbia.

It is the first time since the AHS was started in 1992 that the rates have decreased.

"I think that was the most positive thing to come out of it for me," said Smith.

The centre will now start to meet with youth to de-brief the survey and tease out what may lie behind some of the statistics.

Of concern, and a puzzle too, are the statistics on abuse. The numbers had been in decline but this survey shows physical abuse rates going up and sexual abuse staying flat.

This year saw a change in the way the survey was completed. In some school districts parents had to actively consent to their kids completing the survey.

When abuse statistics from schools where no parent consent was needed were compared to the previous survey, so like against like, the rate of sexual abuse actually went up, said Smith.

"When we looked at those students where we are absolutely certain we are comparing like with like, sex abuse rates rose," she said.

Also new this year was the question on "Last Saturday Use." Previously the survey asked about drinking and marijuana use the night before the student filled it in. Now the survey specifically asks about drinking and smoking drugs on the Saturday night before the survey.