The latest youth risk behavior survey by the Centers for Disease Control finds less cigarette smoking and fewer fights among teens, but rates of texting and driving are on the rise.
The survey is conducted in 42 states and 21 large urban areas every two years.
Results in New Hampshire show the state’s teens below the national average for a number of risky behaviors, including cigarette smoking, riding in a car with someone who has been drinking, and seriously considering a suicide attempt.
Nationwide, cigarette smoking rates among high school students dropped to 15.7 percent. In New Hampshire, that number fell to 13.8 percent.
Other areas measured by the survey, including driving while having a drink, having had at least one drink in the past 30 days, and students not going to school because they feel unsafe are on par with the national average.
There are several areas where New Hampshire teens are more likely to engage in risky behavior than their peers across the nation.
Nationwide, 41 percent of students who had driven a car or other vehicle during the past 30 days reported texting or emailing while driving.
In New Hampshire, that number jumps to 47 percent.
“It’s encouraging that high school students are making better health choices such as not fighting, not smoking, and not having sex,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said. “Way too many young people still smoke and other areas such as texting while driving remain a challenge. Our youth are our future. We need to invest in programs that help them make healthy choices so they live long, healthy lives.”
At the local level, Pam SantaFe of the Greater Derry Public Health Network said many of the changes in perception about risky behaviors have come from the efforts of teens themselves. SantaFe is the substance misuse prevention coordinator for the health network, which supports community health education through events and forums in a number of local communities, including Atkinson, Chester, Danville, Derry, Hampstead, Londonderry, Plaistow, Salem, Sandown and Windham.
SantaFe points to a recent presentation and video on texting and driving at Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston that was actually produced by two students.
“The texting and driving rates are really high right now,” SantaFe said. “But when kids see that kind of video by their fellow students using their perspective and language, they are more likely to listen. It’s all about youth leadership and youth empowerment to help encourage changes in the culture.”
The CDC’s youth risk behavior survey plays a role in the education by helping highlight which communities may need extra educational efforts in different areas, according to SantaFe.
At Windham High School, the guidance department uses the results to help determine areas where more efforts are needed to combat risky behavior.
Windham High guidance director Julie Lichtmann said the school has worked in conjunction with the local police department and the Greater Derry Public Health Network to address some of these issues with presentations to students and adults.
Lichtmann noted that Windham did better than many schools across the state, but that any incidents of risky behavior are dangerous.
“The big one is distracted driving, which we are trying to control,” she said.
Distracted driving, by teens and adults, is an area of focus for local police departments.
Last year, Derry was among the communities that received an Operation Safe Commute grant from the state highway safety agency that helped the police department staff monthly patrols to address distracted driving.
Although the department did not get the grant this year, police Capt. Vernon Thomas said the department watches for distracted driving and risky behaviors when it conducts traffic enforcement.