July 9, 2020 – The percentage of high school and middle school students who reported being sexually active has declined by double digits over the last 10 years.
This positive data point was among several health behavior trends – both positive and negative – that were captured in the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) administered by the school district and the Florida Department of Health in Duval County (DOH-Duval).
Taken by Duval County middle and high schoolers, the survey measures health-related behaviors among young people across six categories: injuries and violence, sexual behaviors, tobacco use, alcohol and other drug use, dietary behaviors, and physical activity.
Sexual health was among the behaviors that showed positive gains. For example, the number of high school students reporting being sexually active in 2009 was 37.7 percent compared to 23.5 percent in 2019. Tobacco and alcohol use also showed positive trends with cigarette use among middle school students dropping from 8.1 percent to 4.6 percent. Alcohol use among high school students declined from 38.8 percent to 25 percent.
“Today’s youth are making better decisions about their sexual health than just a decade ago,” said Dr. Pauline Rolle, Interim Health Officer and Medical Director of the Florida Department of Health in Duval County. “We have made strides in the behaviors that put students most at risk for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.”
But there is still a lot of work to be done in recognizing and creating healthier environments for children, said Rolle.
Several concerning trends over the past 10 years reflect this. This includes decreases in the number of students reporting healthy eating habits; increases in the number of students not going to school because they felt unsafe; and a significant number of both middle and high school students who report they seriously considered suicide or attempted suicide.
The data can be sobering, said Heather Albritton, the school district’s Director of Health and Physical Education, and it underscores the importance of health and wellness initiatives.
This includes monthly discussions on wellness with all students through the district’s Wellness Wednesday initiative; and the recent expansion of mental health services so that every student has access to a mental health therapist.
“We continually look for ways to innovatively use the survey data in partnering with local agencies to mitigate the high-risk behaviors of our youth,” said Albritton. “We know that we must press forward to find new, broader ways to connect our students with programming, services, and educational experiences that can help shape their habits into life-long beneficial, positive behaviors.”
An example of this is the Teen Health Centers in Duval County. Through a partnership between the school district, the health department and Full Service Schools of Jacksonville, the Teen Health Centers offer sexual health services to students including: free screening for STDs, HIV and pregnancy; education about STD and HIV prevention; and treatment and counseling for students who test positive.
As with previous administrations, behavioral and mental health continue to be areas of concern highlighted by the YRBS. Katrina Taylor, director of school behavioral health with the school district, said the alarming data on suicide will be important in sharing with educators during trainings.
“All educators in our district are required to take Youth Mental Health First Aid training, which helps them better identify when students are having a mental health crisis and give them the right resources,” said Taylor. “Informing educators on the reality that more than 30 percent of our students in middle school have seriously considered suicide will be a much needed reminder that addressing their mental health is as much a priority as their academic health.”
About the 2019 YRBS results
In 2019, the YRBS was completed by 4,128 students from 21 public high schools and of those, 4,032 surveys were usable after data editing. The YRBS was completed by 4,724 students from 28 public middle schools and, of those, 4,585 surveys were usable after data editing. Highlights of the survey include:
- 17.5% of high school students reported being bullied on school property during the 12 months before the survey, and 40.1% of middle school students reported ever being bullied on school property.
- Suicide risk behaviors have significantly increased among middle and high school students since 2009. In 2019, about one in five students reported making a plan to commit suicide.
- Since 2009, Duval County has seen a decline in sexual activity among adolescents. Still, many students engage in sexual risk behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancies and STIs, including HIV infection. In 2019, approximately 1 in 4 high school students (23.5%) were currently sexually active.
- Use of electronic vapor products is an emerging health concern, with 13.7% of middle school and 16.5% of high school students reporting current electronic vapor product use.
- 6.7% of middle school students most of time or always went hungry and 16.3% did not eat breakfast during the seven days before the survey.
About the YRBS
The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) is a school-based, self-administered, confidential, and anonymous survey that is part of a national effort implemented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The purpose of the survey is to monitor health-related behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death or disability among youth and adults. In Duval County, YRBS data has been collected in all standard public middle and high schools since 2009.
About the Florida Department of Health
The department, nationally accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board, works to protect, promote and improve the health of all people in Florida through integrated state, county and community efforts. Follow us on Twitter at @HealthyFla and on Facebook. For more information about the Florida Department of Health please visit www.FloridaHealth.gov.
About Duval County Public Schools
Duval County Public Schools is the 20th largest school district in the nation, educating more than 129,000 students in over 190 schools. Its mission is to provide educational excellence for every school, in every classroom, for every student, every day. Visit http://www.duvalschools.org to learn more.