By Kim Walter
The Lord Fairfax Health District now has a snapshot of the area's youth risk behaviors, and could use the information to start future prevention projects or groups.
The Youth Risk Behavior Survey is part of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System developed in 1990 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor behaviors that affect morbidity and mortality among middle- and high-school age youth.
Categories in question include sexual behaviors, alcohol and drug use, dietary behaviors and physical activity.
In the fall of 2012 the local health district, in collaboration with surrounding school systems, administered the 2011 version of the survey to eighth and 11th grade students in the counties of Clarke, Frederick, Page, and Warren, and the city of Winchester.
The survey was given to 1,072 eighth graders and 1,492 eleventh graders.
Dr. Charles Devine, director of the local health district, said he would like to see all results of the survey improve, but believes that having the information is the first step.
"Maybe one community is focusing on a risk behavior that actually doesn't need as much attention," he said. "The thing is, how do you know if you don't ask?"
Some results in particular stuck out to Devine.
For instance, 13.1 percent of the surveyed high schoolers reported being hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend. Devine said the number was slightly higher than overall state and national results.
He said the issue doesn't necessarily lie in the school, though. Violence-related behaviors can be tied to interfamilial fighting, he said.
"Unfortunately, that behavior and behaviors like it are learned to some extent," Devine said. "But, now that we know that this is happening in our community, we have a reason to consider providing more services to help reduce that number and help interrupt the cycle."
Students also were asked about their experiences with bullying - something Devine called a "sensitive issue with the schools."
Of the middle school students, 44.3 percent reported being bullied on school property, while 25.3 percent reported being bullied electronically. A greater percentage of females reported experiencing both types of bulling compared to males.
At the high school level, only 17.3 percent said they had been bullied on school property, compared to 14.9 percent reporting electronic bullying.
Devine said the results tell him that bullying is as much a community issue as it is a school issue.
The results of questions asked about physical activity were somewhat encouraging.
"Our kids in high school reported that they are spending more time being active for an hour or more each day at a better rate than the state and nation," Devine said. "On the other hand, only 21.6 percent said they participate in a P.E. class each day, compared to the national average of about 40 percent."
Devine said he found the amount of students reporting some drug use concerning, especially amongst the eighth graders.
According to the survey results, 9.5 percent of the middle school aged students have tried marijuana. Additionally, 3.2 percent reported that they had used cocaine.
Devine said the numbers weren't as bad as those in the three other states that surveyed eighth graders, - West Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina - but he still wasn't happy to see such results in the district.
Another surprising result was that 11 percent of eighth graders reported having sexual intercourse.
"That was surprising to me," Devine said.
In the future, Devine said he hopes to make the survey a semi-regular one so that the district could have trend information. That way, it will become clearer what issues require more attention. It also could show what interventions and programs are working in the community.
"This is a great tool to have, but there is definitely value in doing it again," he said. "We all know that these risk behaviors start at some point, but maybe it's earlier than we thought."
The survey results and general summaries are available online and can be found at www.vdh.virginia.gov/LHD/LordFairfax/YRBS.
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org