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Franklin County Teens making healthier choices

GREENFIELD — Fewer area teenagers are drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes than three years ago, while marijuana use has remained the same, according to the latest Communities That Care Coalition teen health survey.

The survey — which polled eighth-graders, sophomores and seniors from Franklin County and North Quabbin public school districts — asked students about their alcohol, tobacco and other drug use, both ever and during the past 30 days.

The percentage of students surveyed who used alcohol during the past 30 days decreased in all three grades: 13.8 percent of eighth-graders (20.4 percent in 2009), 33.3 percent of sophomores (37.7 percent) and 48.0 percent of seniors (49.5 percent).

Lifetime alcohol use decreased across the board, although the majority of seniors (74.9 percent) and sophomores (62.1 percent) reported having at least one drink in their lifetime. There was a significant drop among eighth-graders: 33 percent of surveyed students reported drinking at least once, compared to 49.4 percent in 2009.

Decreases were also seen in recent cigarette use: 6.6 percent of eighth-graders (6.9 percent in 2009), 13.1 percent of sophomores (15.2 percent) and 19.9 percent of seniors (20.1 percent).

And for lifetime cigarette use, there was a 5 percent decrease in all three grades from 2009. The highest level was seniors, with 38.1 percent reporting they smoked at least one cigarette ever.

But recent marijuana use figures increased by about a percentage point in all grades: 9 percent of eighth-graders (8.4 percent), 24.1 percent of sophomores (23.2 percent) and 33.5 percent (32.5 percent).

Lifetime marijuana use —16.6 percent of eighth-graders, 42 percent of sophomores, and 51.4 percent of seniors — was overall about the same as 2009 numbers.

Kat Allen, co-chair of the Communities That Care Coalition, said at a Friday coalition meeting that she was pleased with marijuana levels staying constant, rather than increasing.

“Given what’s happening on a national scene and on the state level with the conversations and policies around marijuana use and medical marijuana, we actually were holding our breath expecting an uptick,” she said. “That’s what we’re seeing around the country, (so) we actually were quite happy to see it flat line there.”

Allen said that a number of factors may be responsible for the decline in alcohol and cigarette use — including more public anti-drinking and anti-drug campaigns, as well as improvements seen in parental control and communication with children.

For example, she said, “opportunities for pro-social involvement” — if children feel they can participate in family decision making — increased in all three grades. And, according to the students’ surveys, favorable drug use attitude among parents decreased across the board.

The survey’s 1,829 participants makes up about 75 percent of all eighth-graders, sophomores and seniors attending public schools in the area, the coalition said.

The survey — which was given anonymously to increase the validity of the results — also asked students about other drug use, antisocial behaviors, perceptions of substance abuse in their grade and questions about family interactions and rules.

Although the coalition conducts annual teen health surveys, it rotates through three different questionnaires. This specific survey will next be conducted in 2015.

Full survey results can be found online at: http://www.communitiesthatcarecoalition.org/surveys. Click on the link to the “2012 report,” located on the right side of the page.

Chris Shores can be reached at:
cshores@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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