Risky behaviors among local teens decline

  • An e-cigarette users exhales vapor. AP photo

Staff Writer
Published: 9/29/2018 12:20:28 AM

GREENFIELD — Youth substance abuse is at an all-time low in the 16 years of surveying the middle and high school students of Franklin County and the North Quabbin.

With the good though comes some bad, leaders of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments’ Communities that Care Coalition expressed at its annual unveiling of survey data from the region’s eighth, 10th and 12th graders Friday.

The one exception is nearly 1-in-3 middle or high school students have tried vaping, a sharp increase in the past few years as the market has gotten its footing, and just over 1-in-5 students said they have used so-called e-cigarettes in the past 30 days.

Combating the emerging youth culture around vaping – typically involving nicotine and sometimes marketed as an alternative to cigarettes – is both a recent campaign by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the subject of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s fight launched this September.

“It’s ‘Big Tobacco’ finding a new area to market their product,” Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan said when asked after Friday’s presentation about the developing vaping trends locally.

He emphasized people don’t know the long-term consequences of it, which means people should be cautious while more research is conducted on the potential harms from it.

Three times more students are reporting they have vaped in the past 30 days in 2018, since the last set of released data in 2015, from 7 percent to 22 percent. The biggest leap came among 10th graders, with the data jumping from 5 to 29 percent. About 44 percent of high school seniors have said they have ever vaped in their lifetime.

Greenfield School Superintendent Jordana Harper wanted to reiterate, as others said during the day, that while the numbers are increasing, it’s important students know that the majority of students are not vaping and doing these types of activities.

“Advertising can distort their perception of what’s typical,” Harper said.

Greenfield public schools with Greenfield Safe Schools Safe Streets Coalition received this month a five-year federal grant, along with the North Quabbin Community Coalition, for $625,000 to help develop a drug-free community.

Black and Latino students, at 29 and 26 percent, are slightly more likely to vape than white students, at 22 percent, while Asian students were the outlier at 4 percent. Lower income students were also slightly more likely to vape than higher income at 29 to 22 percent.

“We need to work a lot more with parents and get information out about the myths and realities about vaping and just what vaping looks like,” Communities that Care Coalition leader Kat Allen said. “Make sure kids know that it’s risky and there are health risks associated with vaping.”

Additionally of concern for the Communities that Care Coalition was the unexplained rise in self-reported feelings associated with depression, specifically with young women.

The overall number of depressive symptoms is relatively steady overtime, 45 to 46 percent from 2015 to 2018.

Yet the data shows a steady, steep rise in these self-reported assessments of depression symptoms among girls since 2012.

In six years, depression symptoms among girls surveyed climbed by about 13 percentage points, up to 62 percent in 2018. Boys reported at 31 percent of them expressing depression symptoms this year, meaning that twice as many girls as boys are feeling depressed locally.

“It’s an issue we need to explore further. We have lots of theories. We need to talk to young people and counselors and really get a better handle on what’s driving this change,” Allen said.

Some of the people at the meeting Friday said in their small group sessions that they thought contributing factors were social media pressures, political climate, sufficient language around gender identity and the rising costs of college.

When asked about whether social media could be a part of it, particularly a culture around young people on their phones: “Let’s face it, fresh air is a lot better than sitting inside for several hours playing games,” Sullivan said. The district attorney further encouraged people to participate in afterschool activities like sports and said that cost barriers need to be evaluated so they are not a significant factor.

Overall though, the number of risk factors among local students is steadily decreasing.

“This is very encouraging and I’m really encouraged so many people are in this room having this conversation and that student health and wellness is getting this level of community support,” Harper said.

In 2018, the average number of risk factors students have is down to seven out of a total number of 20. The data shows that the more risk factors someone has, the more likely they are to participate in activities like binge drinking and drug use.

Despite legalization of marijuana, use has not gone up significantly, although perception of whether it is harmful has decreased heavily in recent years.

“The community is really excited to see these positive trends continue,” Allen said. “We all continue to be surprised at how positive many of these trends are. One big surprise is marijuana hasn’t gone up. Family dynamics continue to improve from teens themselves. I think everyone is really delighted to see that and we’re all trying to figure out how to help these trends continue and use these positive trends to motivate us to do more.”

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext.2 64




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