Survey: Montana Youth Smoking, Drinking, Meth Use Down

Nearly 4,500 students in 49 public schools took the survey in February

By Dillon Tabish

HELENA — A survey shows the percentage of Montana high school students who smoke, drink and use drugs continues to decrease, while time in front of computer screens and obesity rates are increasing.

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is given every two years, asks high school students about their unhealthy habits, such as drinking alcohol, smoking and drug use, and their healthy habits, such as eating fruits and vegetables and getting adequate exercise.

Nearly 4,500 students in 49 public schools took the survey in February. The Office of Public Instruction cautions that even though it is an anonymous survey, students might tend to under-report socially undesirable behaviors and over-report behaviors that are socially desirable.

The results, released Tuesday, found that 13.1 percent of students had smoked within the previous month, down from 30.7 percent in 1993. Daily smokers fell from 9 percent to 2.2 percent of responding students.

Just over a third of students said they had an alcoholic drink within the past month, down from 55.7 percent in 1993. About 30 percent said they had never had a drink, up from 17 percent in 1993.

Only 3 percent of students report having ever used meth, down from 13.5 percent in 1999; 8 percent reported having ever used an inhalant, down from 20.9 percent in 1993.

Based on a height and weight chart, the percentage of students who are overweight increased from 10.7 percent in 1999 to 15 percent this year and the percentage of obese students — those who are above the 95th percentile for body mass index — increased from 6.1 percent in 1999 to 10.3 percent.

The number of students who report being physically active for at least 60 minutes per day in the week before the study was 28.7 percent, up from 14 percent in 2005. However, just over one-third of the students report spending more than three hours per day in front of a computer screen, compared to 16.2 percent who saw that much screen time in 2007.

The results of the survey are used to develop statewide comprehensive health education that seeks to reduce behaviors that place Montana youth at risk.

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