Fewer Teens Face Greater Health Risks Steve Libowitz -------------------------------- Homewood News and Information A recent report prepared on the health of Maryland's adolescents shows that although there are fewer teens today than 25 years ago in the state, they are at greater risk from a number of health hazards ranging from sexually transmitted diseases to violence and smoking. The report, "The Health of Maryland's Adolescents," was prepared by the School of Public Health' Center for Adolescent Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, one of 13 national centers funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,. The Hopkins center focuses on adolescents in urban settings. Its partner institution at Salisbury State University focuses on rural youth. The CAHPDP report paints a portrait of today's Maryland teens and outlines the challenges they face in order to enjoy a healthy and safe adult life. "While positive trends, such as the decline in deaths due to motor vehicle crashes, are encouraging, the rapid rise in deaths that result from homicide is very troubling," said center director Cheryl Alexander, a professor in the school's Department of Maternal and Child Health. Among the positive trends reported by Alexander is a rise in the number of teens who graduated from high school after four years. Fully 77 percent of the state's high school students graduated on time in 1993, compared to 73 percent in 1990. Deaths from motor vehicle accidents declined from 33 percent to 25 percent between 1988 and 1993, the report states. And the number of births to teens younger than 20 has declined since 1991. "We don't know precise reasons for these positive trends," Alexander said, "but we think schools are doing a better job of keeping students from dropping out and helping them meet the criteria for state-wide exams. And the decline in car crashes may be related to a combination of factors: a decline in adolescent drinking and driving, an increased use of seatbelts and enforcement of speed limits." The report also outlines trends that indicate threats to the health and well-being of Maryland adolescents. In a short two-year span between 1990 and 1992, the number of arrests for violent crimes committed by adolescents increased by 17 percent. In 1993, homicide was the second leading cause of death for all 10- to 19-year-olds. In that same year, teens accounted for 30 percent of all cases of gonorrhea reported in Maryland. "This report includes a large urban community, and like similar communities today, it is plagued by youths' easy access to handguns and other social issues, such as poverty and some teens' inability to see a positive future," Alexander said. "In the next few years," she added, "we will need to monitor the changes in these indicators of adolescent health, so we can develop effective preventive programs that will meet the needs of Maryland's youth." "What I find most frightening in this report is that what we're seeing in the adolescent population mirrors society as a whole and perhaps society's future, since these people are the future," she said. "But what I find hopeful is that although 40 percent of 10th graders in 1992 reported drinking in the past month, 60 percent said they didn't use alcohol. In other words, there are adolescents out there who are not engaging in risk-taking behaviors and who are making healthy lifestyle decisions. "Public health research is becoming more and more interested in what factors contribute to the resilience of some youth in a difficult environment, learning what are the characteristics that make some kids succeed," Alexander said. Copies of "The Health of Maryland's Adolescents," which was funded by the Maryland State Department of Health and Mental Health, are available from the Center for Adolescent Health, 2007 E. Monument St., Baltimore, Md. 21205, or by calling (410) 614-3953.
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