Survey data finds unhealthy habits among youth on decline

Nick Hathaway, evaluation coordinator for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments’ Partnership for Youth, talks about results of a student health survey at the Greenfield Public Library on Friday.

Nick Hathaway, evaluation coordinator for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments’ Partnership for Youth, talks about results of a student health survey at the Greenfield Public Library on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Nick Hathaway, evaluation coordinator for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments’ Partnership for Youth, talks about results of a student health survey at the Greenfield Public Library on Friday.

Nick Hathaway, evaluation coordinator for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments’ Partnership for Youth, talks about results of a student health survey at the Greenfield Public Library on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Nick Hathaway, evaluation coordinator for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments’ Partnership for Youth, talks about results of a student health survey at the Greenfield Public Library on Friday.

Nick Hathaway, evaluation coordinator for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments’ Partnership for Youth, talks about results of a student health survey at the Greenfield Public Library on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 10-27-2023 4:19 PM

GREENFIELD — Most unhealthy habits among youth have been trending downward in the past few years, according to data recently released by the Communities That Care Coalition.

The Franklin Regional Council of Governments program surveyed 1,439 eighth, 10th and 12th graders in the nine public school districts of Franklin County and the North Quabbin region, and detailed the results in a presentation at the Greenfield Public Library on Friday. Nick Hathaway, evaluation coordinator for FRCOG’s Partnership for Youth, explained the data to roughly 65 guests before a unanimous vote to accept the 2024 Community Action Plan. The self-reported youth statistics aimed to highlight any correlations between screen time and mental health struggles.

Hathaway said reported use of alcohol, tobacco, vape and cannabis is down, though vape saw a sharp increase at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. He suggested that spike could have been the result of the way vaping was marketed to young people.

“Maybe we’ve passed a peak,” Hathaway said.

Meanwhile, the statistics also indicate texting while driving is increasing, as is non-fatal self-harm.

Data related to eating disorders suggests efforts to lose weight and anorexic and bulimic behavior decrease or plateau with one hour of screen time per day, but those numbers increase for every hour after that. Hathaway said this indicates a limited and monitored amount of screen time might prove beneficial to youth health.

“The jury is still out on a lot of this,” he said.

Substance use and impaired driving also appear to be decreasing, with cisgender girls and women, members of the LGBTQ community and students from lower-income households being the most likely to use.

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Youth sexual activity is generally trending downward, too, though sexual and dating violence has increased sharply since 2019. Students in the LGBTQ community report this type of violence more frequently, according to the data.

Following the presentation, everyone in the room voted to accept the 2024 Community Action Plan, which can be found at bit.ly/45JAqnX. Amy McMahan, owner of Mesa Verde, was then presented with the Mike Fritz Community Builder Award before guests were treated to lunch.

A collection of tools and resources for schools and families in the community on a wide variety of challenges — including sex education, mental health and growing up online — can be found at communitiesthatcarecoalition.com/resources. A full report and summary presentation of the 2023 survey results can be found at communitiesthatcarecoalition.com/surveys.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.