Teenagers are smoking less, fighting less and having less sex than a decade ago, a Hawaii Department of Health report indicates.

The number of Hawaii high school students who’ve seriously considered attempting suicide has also decreased significantly. Whereas more than a quarter of the students surveyed in 1993 had seriously considered attempting suicide sometime within the year before taking the questionnaire, the percentage decreased to 17 percent in 2013.

But isle teens aren’t making progress on all fronts. More high school students felt unsafe at or on their way to school in 2013 than in 2003, and the percentage of students who’ve attempted suicide at least once has remained the same — about one out of every 10 teens. Meanwhile, although fewer teens report having sex, the ones who do are less inclined to use condoms.

“It’s fortunate that kids are less likely to be sexually active, but of our kids that are sexually active over half didn’t use a condom, and that’s something that’s troubling to us,” said Department of Health epidemiologist Tonya Lowery St. John.

campbell high students

Students walking in a highway at Campbell High School in 2013.

Alia Wong/Civil Beat

The report released Monday was produced in conjunction with the Department of Education and the University of Hawaii. It contains findings from the 2013 Hawaii Youth Risk Behavior Survey for the state and each of its four counties.

The survey is administered to regular public school students in grades six through 12 every two years. Hawaii’s survey is conducted in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which compiles state and national data online. About 6,000 Hawaii high and middle school students took the survey.

Its 87 questions relate to six types of behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death and disability among children and young adults, which include motor vehicle crashes, homicides and suicides. The six categories range from violent behavior and drug use to unhealthy diets and inadequate physical activity.

This year’s data shows that Hawaii’s teens are, for the most part, healthier and safer now than they were a decade ago. They’re also faring better than their mainland counterparts in many areas, particularly when it comes to soda and alcohol consumption, tobacco use and possessing a weapon or other kinds of violent behaviors.

For example, 17 percent of high school students reported having been in a physical fight one or more times during the year before the 2013 survey, down from 37 percent in 1993. And just one in 10 high school students had smoked cigarettes at least once sometime during the month before the 2013 survey, down from 28 percent in 1993.

Some of the most promising statistics reflect the success of local advocacy campaigns, particularly efforts to reduce the rates of smoking, underage drinking and soda consumption, according to Lowery St. John. For example, Hawaii banned sodas and sugary drinks from public schools a few years ago and spearheaded an aggressive, federally funded campaign to combat teenage alcohol consumption.

Here are some positive highlights from the report:

*Data pertains to high school students only. (Click here for the full report, which contains some data for middle school students.)

Other statistics are more troublesome.

For example, more than three out of every 10 high school students reported in 2013 that they had been offered, sold or given an illegal drug on a school campus sometime during the previous year, compared to a national average of 22 percent.

Lowery St. John reasoned that Hawaii’s high rate is in part due to the open layout of the state’s public school campuses, which makes it harder for adults to watch for such activity and enforce anti-drug policies.

And far fewer high school students in Hawaii are getting daily physical education than on the mainland, a shortcoming that Lowery St. John attributed to the state’s changing graduation requirements and shift to block scheduling.

Some negative highlights:

Other highlights:

  • More than 43 percent of the high school students who had driven a vehicle sometime during the month before the survey said they had texted or emailed while driving at least once, compared with a national average of 41 percent.
  • Forty-two percent of high school students had played video or computer games or used a computer for something that was not schoolwork for three or more hours per day on an average school day. The national average was 41 percent.
  • Just 27 percent of high school students got eight or more hours of sleep on an average school night, compared with a U.S. average of 32 percent.
  • About one out of every five Hawaii high and middle school students had purposely hurt themselves — by cutting or burning themselves, for example — without wanting to die.
  • Three out of every 10 high school students had felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row sometimes during the year before the survey that they stopped doing some usual activities. (The percentage was nearly 27 percent for middle school students.)

“Not all student health risk behaviors are obvious,” said DOE Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi in a statement. “This data provides information that our educators can use to reinforce and advise our students in making positive choices.”

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