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Straight, No Chaser: Your Teens Are Healthier Than You!

By Jeffrey Sterling, MD March 29, 2020


Your teens are healthier than you. From the department of good health news – on some very important measures, somehow it seems as if our youth have actually received and read the memo on health. According to a recent survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), several measures of health have improved significantly in the teen population – with a few important exceptions.


These improvements include the following.

  • Cigarette smoking. Cigarette smoking among U.S. high school students has reached an all time low. Teen smoking is down to 15.7%. It was just over 15 years ago (in 1997) that the rate was 36.4%. Unfortunately, this still translates to 2.7 million high school students who smoke.
  • Armed trauma. The proportion of students threatened or injured with a gun, knife or other weapon on school property has dropped to 6.9%, from a peak of 9.2% in 2003. In the presence of so many school shootings, a ray of hope exists.
  • Fist fights. The proportion of students involved in fist fights was reported at 25%, which is down from 42% in 1991. The number of students having had a fight at school within the last year sits at 8%, which is down from 16%.
  • Soda consumption. 27% of teens had at least one soda daily, down from 34% in 2007.
  • TV viewing. 32% watched three daily hours of TV, down from 43% in 1999.
  • Other: Overall, teens are drinking less alcohol and are having less sex with more birth control use by females.

And now, the not so good news…

  • Condom use: Condom use is declining among the sexually active, being reported at 59%, down from a peak of 63% in 2003. Remember, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases/infections haven’t gone away at all; we’ve just gotten better in controlling them. Now is not the time to get comfortable.
  • Texting and driving: 41% of those who drove admitted to texting or e-mailing while driving. This is bad anyway you look at it.
  • Cigar and other forms of smoking: Cigars are now as popular as cigarettes with high school boys. Cigars were smoked by 23% of 12th grade boys in the month before the survey. Smokeless tobacco use hasn’t changed since 1999, holding at about 8%. Other surveys have shown increases in e-cigarette and hookah use.
  • Computer time: 41% of teens report using a computer for non-school reasons at least three hours a day, up from 22% in 2003. Apparently this is where the TV time has gone.

What this really means is (wait for it!) your teens are educable. Discuss these topics with them and why it’s important to make healthy decisions. Of course it helps if you model the behavior.

Feel free to ask your SMA expert consultant any questions you may have on this topic.
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