When it comes to health, teens seem to be getting the message.
High school students surveyed last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention smoked less, drank less and used seat belts and bike helmets more frequently than their counterparts 12 years earlier, according to an analysis released Thursday.
But even so, many teenagers remain exposed to significant health risks, the CDC reported: In 2003, 2.6 million high school students said they rarely or never wore seat belts, 6.4 million drank alcohol, 3.1 million smoked cigarettes and 2.4 million carried a weapon.
Some trends are moving in the wrong direction, the agency cautioned. Use of cocaine and illegal steroids has increased, numbers of those overweight remain high, and fruit and vegetable consumption has not budged since the agency began keeping track.
"Too many high school students are engaging in behaviors that place them at risk for serious health, educational or social problems," said Jo Anne Grunbaum, a scientist in CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. "Even with the improvements, we still have a ways to go."
The numbers come from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a voluntary, anonymous questionnaire the CDC has administered to high school students every second year since 1991. The most recent version was given last spring to 15,214 ninth through 12th grade students in 32 states, including Georgia.
The survey measures risky behaviors in six categories - injury and violence, tobacco use, alcohol and drug use, sexual behavior, food consumption and physical activity. It also asks whether students believe they are overweight.
The responses are used to gauge whether the country is achieving health goals set every 10 years by the federal government. They also serve as an early predictor of the country's future health, because the patterns of behavior that foster heart disease and cancer - the two biggest killers in the United States - often originate in adolescence.
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