Is No News Good News? Healthy Kids Colorado Survey Shows Little Change on Key Measures

Colorado high school students weren’t using any more marijuana, alcohol and e-vapor products in 2017 than they were two years before.

That’s according to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, released by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment this week.  The survey, which is conducted biennially by the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, is the leading resource on the health and well-being of middle and high school students.

The 2017 survey results have been highly anticipated as a way to get more insight into big questions about adolescents’ health: Are more teens using marijuana and e-cigarettes? Has youth mental health improved? Is bullying more or less common?

Colorado counties use this data to identify trends among youth and develop educational programs and interventions to improve health in their communities.

Data are available for all but two of the state’s 21 health statistics regions: Region 14, Adams County, used a shortened survey and Region 21, Jefferson County, had a low student response rate. While the state doesn’t share responses at the regional level for those counties due to the limited responses, the data that are available are included in statewide estimates.

It is important to note the survey is voluntary — both parents and students can opt out. It also must be approved by a school district’s superintendent and a school’s principal.

To answer these questions and more, a CHI team is digging through the high school data and creating a set of dashboards to provide an easy to access and digestible analysis of many health issues. Stay tuned for more in-depth analysis in coming weeks.

But a first glance at Healthy Kids shows a few closely watched behaviors haven’t changed much at the state level – for better or for worse:

  • Marijuana Use: About one in five high school students reported using marijuana use in the past 30 days in 2017. That’s not a significant change since marijuana was legalized in 2014. But marijuana use is more common among some groups of teens than others: Nearly twice as many gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens report currently using marijuana compared to their straight counterparts, for instance.
  • Tobacco Use: In 2017, 27 percent of high school students reported currently using e-vapor products. This is now the most commonly used tobacco product, surpassing cigarettes by 20 percentage points. And only 50 percent of students say they think e-vapor products are harmful, compared to 87 percent who think cigarettes are harmful. Colorado youth use e-vapor products at nearly twice the rate of the national average — which will likely lead to enhanced educational and policy efforts in the upcoming years both at the state and national level.
  • Feeling Safe at School: Ten percent of youth reported not feeling safe at school, a trend that stayed consistent since 2013. And nearly 20 percent of high schoolers say they have been bullied on school property.
  • Suicide and mental health: About 30 percent of youth said they felt hopeless or sad for two weeks or more in the past 12 months — a reminder that mental health issues span across all ages. This has not increased or decreased since 2013. Neither have reported suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts.

So, is no news good news? It depends on the measure, but it’s usually more mixed than good: While it’s good that more youth aren’t reporting poor mental health now, for instance, the survey indicates that nearly a third are struggling. And while it’s good news that suicidal thoughts and attempts aren’t becoming more common, they’re also not going down – and suicide remains a leading cause of death among young people in our state.

There’s more to learn about what might be working to improve young people’s health by taking a deeper look at differences by geography, gender, race/ethnicity, age, and more.

Over the next few months, CHI will create and update its 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey dashboard with more information. Follow us on Twitter and subscribe to our newsletter to track the updates. Click here to view the series dashboard. 

Find Jalyn Ingalls on Twitter: @CHI_JIngalls

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