Vaping and mental health are key concerns for Kentucky students

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(FRANKFORT, KY) – Based on the 2019 Kentucky Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) results, middle and high school students in the state are using electronic vaping products much more than they were in 2017.

The percentage of middle school students who ever used an electronic vapor product increased from 15.1% in 2017 to 31.4% in 2019. A significant increase also occurred among high school students who ever used an electronic vapor product, rising from from 44.5% in 2017 to 53.7% in 2019.

More Kentucky students also are experiencing mental health challenges. Survey results indicate that the percentage of middle school students who ever seriously thought about killing themselves increased from 18.2% in 2017 to 22.4% in 2019. Likewise, the percentage of high school students who seriously considered attempting suicide during the 12 months before the survey increased from 14.8% in 2017 to 18.4% in 2019.

The YRBS monitors the health-risk behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death, disability and social problems among youth and adults in the U.S. These behaviors include:

  • alcohol and drug use
  • injury and violence (such as seat belt usage and suicide)
  • nutrition
  • physical activity
  • sexual behaviors
  • tobacco use

The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), in partnership with family resource and youth service centers, administered the survey in spring 2019. Students were selected to participate from randomly chosen middle and high schools throughout the state. The surveys were voluntary, anonymous and every student had the right to refuse to answer any or all questions. Individual district, school or student data is not reported.

The YRBS is administered every two years through a cooperative agreement and funding with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Results are used to create awareness, develop programs and policies, set goals, support health-related legislation and seek funding through various grant opportunities.

Additional 2019 survey results are:

Alcohol, Tobacco and Substance Use

  • The percentage of middle school students who currently use an electronic vapor product (on at least one day during the 30 days before the survey) increased from 3.9% in 2017 to 17.3% in 2019.
  • The percentage of high school students who have ever tried cigarette smoking (even one or two puffs) decreased from 40.5% in 2017 to 30.6% in 2019.
  • The percentage of high school students who currently use an electronic vapor product (on at least one day during the 30 days before the survey) increased from 14.1% in 2017 to 26.1% in 2019.
  • The percentage of middle school students who ever drank alcohol increased from 17.1% in 2017 to 22.9% in 2019.

The KDE and the Kentucky Department for Public Health published an open letter in Kentucky Teacher on Oct. 31, 2019. It contains a list of resources for schools and districts.

More information and resources on 100% Tobacco Free Schools is available on the Tobacco Free Schools website.

Mental Health

  • The percentage of high school students who felt sad or hopeless (almost every day for more than or equal to 2 weeks in a row so that they stopped doing some usual activities, during the 12 months before the survey) increased from 29.2% in 2017 to 37.2% in 2019.
  • The percentage of middle school students who ever tried to kill themselves increased from 5.8% in 2017 to 8.8% in 2019.

Resources for schools and districts can be found on the KDE Social, Emotional and Behavioral Learning/Health webpage and the Suicide Prevention and Awareness webpage.

Physical Health

  • The percentage of middle school students who got 8 or more hours of sleep on an average school night decreased from 53.6% in 2017 to 44.1% in 2019.
  • The percentage of middle school students who ate breakfast on all seven days before the survey decreased from 46.6% in 2017 to 40.9% in 2019.
  • Percentage of high school students who played video or computer games or used a computer 3 or more hours per day (counting time spent on things such as Xbox, PlayStation an iPad or other tablet, a smartphone, texting, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, or other social media, for something that was not school work, on an average school day) increased from 41.2% in 2017 to 47.5% in 2019.

Resources about students’ sleep and health are available on the CDC website. Resources and ideas on how schools can offer breakfast to students are available on the No Kid Hungry website. The CDC also has the “Physical Activity Guidelines for School-Aged Children and Adolescents” resource available on its Healthy Schools webpage.

The full YRBS data reports are available on the KDE website.

For more information, email Stephanie Bunge or call her at (502) 564-5279, ext. 4543.

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