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State youth survey: Alcohol issues drop, obesity on the rise

FARGO — North Dakota high school students are significantly less likely to engage in binge drinking, drive or ride with someone who has been drinking alcohol than they were a decade ago.

Those were among the encouraging findings of the 2013 youth risk behavior survey conducted by the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, following guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On the other hand, the percentage of high school students who were overweight or obese rose from 2001 to 2013, and more students reported spending more time playing video or computer games, both sedentary activities.

“It is kind of a mixed picture,” with both encouraging and concerning trends, said Gail Schauer, an assistant director for safe and healthy schools at the Department of Public Instruction.

Highlights of the behavior survey findings, filled out by 83 percent of students statewide in grades 9 through 12:

- Binge drinking dropped from 41.5 percent in 2001 to 21.9 percent in 2013, which was slightly above the national average.

- Students who drove a car after drinking decreased from 26.8 percent in 2001 to 10.7 percent in 2013.

- Cigarette use declined, with the number who reported smoking in the past 30 days dropping from 35.3 percent in 2001 to 19 percent in 2013.

- Illegal drug use also decreased, with the number of high school students who offered, sold or were given an illegal drug dropping from 27.3 percent in 2001 to 14.1 percent last year.

- Discouragingly to educators, use of smokeless tobacco, including chewing tobacco and snuff, rose from 10.3 percent to 13.8 percent over the decade.

The increase in smokeless tobacco could be the result of the widespread bans on smoking in public places, which make it more difficult for students to sneak a smoke, Schauer said.

“That’s a theory,” she added.

- High school students reporting they had sexual intercourse rose from 42 percent in 2001 to 44.9 percent in 2013.

- Video game and computer game use skyrocketed over the decade, with the percentage playing the games three or more hours per day jumping from 18.6 percent in 2001 to 34.4 percent in 2013.

- The percentage of students who were overweight or obese rose from 21.4 percent in 2001 to 28.6 percent in 2013.

The rise in video game use and percentage of students who are overweight seem to go together, said Robert Grosz, an associate superintendent of Fargo Public Schools.

Now that smartphones are in such wide use, “You have that with you 24 hours a day,” he said.

Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the reporting staff of The Forum in 1985. He can be reached by calling 701-241-5522. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to

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