Survey: Risky Acts More Likely for Hispanic Teens

AP, June 4, 2008

Hispanic high school students use drugs and attempt suicide at higher rates than their black or white classmates, according to a new federal survey that shows a continuation of a disturbing trend.

The study is the latest in a series of surveys of U.S. high school students every two years. The new report noted that black and white students are reporting less sexual activity than in years past, but there was no decline among Hispanics.

In addition, Hispanic students were more likely than either blacks or whites to attempt suicide, ride with a driver who had been drinking alcohol, or use cocaine, heroin or ecstasy.

Hispanics also most often drank alcohol on school property, were offered or sold illegal drugs, and occasionally skipped school because they feared for their safety, according to the 2007 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Experts were unable to come up with an explanation for why Hispanic behavior trends differed. However, they speculated that school environments many Hispanics face may differ considerably from what adolescents of other races encounter. Earlier research found that Hispanics and blacks more commonly attend highly segregated schools than whites or Asians.

“There’s tremendous segregation in our schools,” said Howell Wechsler, director of adolescent and school health for the CDC. He said he was very troubled Hispanic teens had not improved in certain risk areas at the same rate as blacks and whites.

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One example: About 10 to 11 percent of Hispanic students said they attempted suicide, compared with around 7 percent of whites and 8 percent of blacks.

However, whites reported the highest rates of smoking and heavy drinking, while blacks reported the highest rates of obesity, violence and sexual activity.

One striking behavior in which blacks fared the worst was television watching.

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But the new report shows that about 63 percent of black students watch three or more hours a day. In contrast, 43 percent of Hispanic students and 27 percent of whites watched too much TV, the report concluded.

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The survey also found that more blacks use computers for non-school activities — like video games — than whites or Hispanics.

The study’s findings may indicate that black children have fewer sporting events, social clubs or other after-school options than whites or Hispanics, said Ralph DiClemente, an Emory University researcher who has studied adolescent health and media exposure.

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