The health of America’s youth is going downhill, spurred by violence, pregnancy and drug and alcohol abuse, doctors say in a bleak review of the latest research.
The recent trends continue a decades-long decline in adolescent health, Drs. Michele D. Wilson and Alain Joffe of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore said in today’s issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.
“Despite increased attention, violence continues to cause major health problems for adolescents,” the researchers said.
In studies published in the past year:
One in four youngsters ages 10-16 queried nationwide in 1993 reported being assaulted or abused within the previous year, and one in 10 reported being sexually abused or assaulted. The assault rate was three times higher than the rate reported in the National Crime Survey in 1991.
Among suburban teens in Colorado and Ohio, 14 percent of girls and 44 percent of boys reported being hit or punched at school, suggesting violence is not limited to inner cities.
Being a victim of sexual abuse or assault is linked to higher rates of alcohol use, sexual promiscuity and other risky behavior. And 34 percent of sexually abused eighth- and 10th-graders said they had planned suicide within the previous year, compared with 21 percent of youngsters who had not been abused and were sexually active. The rate of suicide plans among non-abused youngsters who were sexually inactive was 13 percent.
Marijuana use among eighth-graders has more than doubled since 1991, the researchers said.
Surveys published last year suggest positive relationships with parents help adolescents resist alcohol and tobacco, while friends’ substance abuse is directly related to adolescents’ own use of alcohol and other drugs.