Exploring disparities in adolescents' health behavior

October 10, 2006

Issues arising from racial, ethnic, and gender disparities among adolescents will be the healthcare challenges making the headlines tomorrow, according to Howell Wechsler, EdD, MPH, Director of the Division of Adolescent and School Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Oct. 10-Atlanta-Issues arising from racial, ethnic, and gender disparities among adolescents will be the healthcare challenges making the headlines tomorrow, according to Howell Wechsler, EdD, MPH, Director of the Division of Adolescent and School Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In a presentation today at the American Academy of Pediatrics 2006 National Convention and Exhibition, Dr. Wechsler reviewed portions of the CDC’s 2005 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), which demonstrated that fewer U.S. high school students are engaging in health risk behaviors compared with their counterparts from 15 years ago. The bad news is that, despite an overall decrease in health risk behaviors among high school students since 1991, racial and ethnic differences continue-sometimes drastically so.

I urge you to go to our website and look at some of the information,” Dr. Wechsler said. “The disparities are fascinating and not always what you might expect. And we are committed to communicating these disparities over and over again until they gain the public attention they deserve.”

Two noteworthy issues that Dr. Wechsler says cannot be ignored any longer are the disparities between racial and ethnic groups with respect to sexual intercourse and suicide attempts. Sixty-eight percent of African-American high school students have engaged in sexual intercourse, compared with 43% of white students. With the incidence of HIV infection among African-Americans extraordinarily high, this is something that must be talked about and addressed in a serious and systematic way, Dr. Wechsler emphasized.

Similarly, the study found that females were considerably more likely than males to report attempted suicide. Even more striking was what Dr. Wechsler called the very profound disparity among ethnic groups: 15% of Hispanic girls reported that they had attempted suicide, while every other demographic subgroup was less than 10%. 

Dr. Wechsler urged pediatricians to help educate the public about these and other disparities in high-risk behaviors. These and other findings of the YRBS are available at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5505a1.htm.