Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Isle youth quit
tobacco but still
face weight issues

Declining numbers for
smoking are tempered by
poor nutritional habits

Hawaii's youths might be giving up tobacco, but health and education officials are concerned that they are not taking up exercise or healthy eating habits.

Cigarette smoking by high school students decreased by almost 40 percent from 2000 to 2003, while smoking by middle school students went down 60 percent, according to health surveys released yesterday at a state Board of Education meeting.

The good news of the Youth Tobacco Survey was offset by facts in the Hawaii Youth Risk Behavior Survey that revealed that isle students are less physically active than students nationally and are less likely to be on a nutritious diet that includes five daily servings of fruit or vegetables and three servings of milk.


About 35 percent of Hawaii middle school children are overweight or "at risk" of being overweight, said Dr. Betty Wood, state Department of Health epidemiologist. For high school students the figure is 27 percent.

Moreover, 43 percent of the middle school students reported watching television for three or more hours on an average school day, as did 40 percent of high school students. "That amount of TV and video game activity is very high," said Wood. "It means you are sedentary, you aren't doing much else besides school, sleep and eat."

The surveys of public school students were taken in 2003 in a joint effort of the state Health and Education departments.

High school participants answered questions asked of students nationally in a program developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Their answers were compared with 1999 and 2001 surveys. Hawaii asked similar questions of middle schoolers, but there is no comparable nationwide survey of that age group.


"Data in both surveys show trends that are more positive than negative in both high school and middle school levels," said Health Director Dr. Chiyome Fukino in a news release. The 2003 reports showed less "at risk" behavior than previous years in areas of tobacco and alcohol consumption, sexual activity and fighting, and an increase in seat belt and helmet use.

Some details:

» Tobacco use: Nearly 19 percent of high school students and 8 percent of middle schoolers had used some form of tobacco in the past month.
» Alcohol use: 32 percent of high schoolers and 12 percent of middle schoolers had at least one drink within the past 30 days. The trend for both age groups has been fewer youngsters drinking in each year of the survey.
» Sexual activity: 33 percent of high school and nearly 10 percent of middle school participants had engaged in sexual intercourse. Condom use among older Hawaii teens was almost 49 percent compared with 63 percent nationally.
» Drug use: 5 percent of high school and 3 percent of middle school students had used methamphetamine at least once. The 2001 survey showed higher use by older youths and less drug use by younger students.
» Only 15.3 percent of high school youths ate five or more servings of fruit and vegetables, a downward trend from previous Hawaii surveys and lower than the 22 percent nationwide student response. In Hawaii nearly 10 percent drank milk three times a day compared with 17 percent nationally.

The surveys are available at www.hawaii.gov/health under "publications."

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