Big Island middle school students report risky behaviors in survey


Hawaii County middle school students were more likely to try smoking cigarettes last year than students anywhere else in the state, according to new findings reported Monday.

The report said a total of 23.6 percent of Big Island middle-schoolers reported having tried smoking (at least one or two puffs), compared with a state average of 16.4 percent. Maui County students had the lowest number of students trying cigarettes, with 14.7 percent.

A wide variety of other behaviors affecting health were reported in Monday’s release of the 2013 Hawaii Youth Risk Behavior Survey for the state and all four counties. The survey was conducted by the state Department of Health, Department of Education and the University of Hawaii. Administered to public non-charter school students in sixth through 12th grades throughout the state every two years, the YRBS is the only survey that monitors youth health risk behaviors on a regular basis.

“The YRBS is an important tool to identify focus areas for prevention and treatment efforts,” said Health Director Linda Rosen. “The longstanding collaboration between the DOH, DOE, and UH provides an excellent data tracking system to monitor student health risk behaviors and target interventions where they are most needed.”

Hawaii County students were at the top of a number of other worrisome behaviors, according to Tonya Lowery St. John, an epidemiologist with the state health department.

Hawaii County led the state in prevalence of high school students reporting having tried alcohol for the first time before the age of 13 years. The state average was 17.5 percent of students, while 22.9 percent of Hawaii County students reported the same. Honolulu had the lowest prevalence, with 16.3 percent.

Hawaii County students also led the state in the prevalence of high school binge drinking, with 15.9 percent reporting having had five or more drinks of alcohol in a row on at least one day during the 30 days prior to the survey, compared to a state average of 12.7 percent. Honolulu had the least students reporting the same, with 11.3 percent.

“On the other hand, on the positive side, it looks like Hawaii County kids were the most likely compared to their counterparts to be physically active,” Lowery St. John said.

For instance, among public high school students, 45.4 percent of Big Isle students reported they had been physically active for a total of at least 60 minutes per day on five or more days during the seven days before the survey, compared with a state average of 40.2 percent. Honolulu students showed the least activity with 38.3 percent reporting the same.

Hawaii County middle school students were more likely to talk about drugs, alcohol and tobacco with their parents, she said. An average of 34.4 percent of public middle school students in the state reported talking with one of their parents or another adult in their family, compared with 38.7 percent on the Big Island. Honolulu again had the lowest number, with 32.7 percent.

In a press release issued Monday, state schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi explained that the survey helps to ferret out information that might not be immediately evident to parents or educators.

“Not all student health risk behaviors are obvious,” she said. “This data provides information that our educators can use to reinforce and advise our students in making positive choices.”

The full survey report, more detailed data reports by county, gender, grade and race/ethnicity, and the survey questionnaires are available at the Hawaii Health Data Warehouse website hhdw.org.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.