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Smoking, alcohol use down among ND students; mental health issues growing, survey finds

FARGO — North Dakota students are using less tobacco and buckling their seat belts more often when they get into a car, but the percentages of youth who feel sad or lonely or attempt suicide are rising, according to the latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey data.

The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction released the 2017 statewide survey data on Tuesday, Dec. 5. The survey is taken every two years.

Compared with the 2013 results, the latest survey shows several positives among high school students:

• Students who rarely or never wore a seat belt when riding in a car dropped from 11.6 percent to 8.1 percent.

• Students who said they drove a car or another vehicle while drinking decreased from 10.7 percent to 6.5 percent.

• Students who texted or emailed while driving decreased from 59.3 percent to 52.6 percent.

• The share of students who talked on a cellphone while driving fell from 67.9 percent to 56.2 percent.

• Students who tried smoking decreased significantly from 41.4 percent to 30.5 percent.

• Students who currently drink alcohol declined from 35.3 percent to 29.1 percent.

• The percentage of students who had ever engaged in sexual intercourse decreased from 44.9 percent to 36.6 percent.

However, some behaviors and mental and emotional health trends appear to have worsened, the survey found.

• Electronic bullying rose to 18.8 percent in 2017, up from 17.1 percent in 2013 and 15.9 percent in 2015.

• The share of students who felt sad or hopeless increased from 25.4 percent in 2013 to 28.9 percent in 2017.

• The percentage of students who attempted suicide one or more times in the 12 months before the survey rose from 11.5 percent to 13.5 percent.

The schools that took part in the survey were chosen at random, and 2,142 high school students answered the 2017 survey, as well as 2,381 middle school students.

The Fargo and West Fargo school districts have not yet received specific data on participation by their students in the survey, spokeswomen for each district said Tuesday.

Minnesota students take part in the Minnesota Student Survey every three years. Among the 2016 findings:

• Use of tobacco products declined. In 2016, 8.4 percent of 11th-graders smoked cigarettes, down from 12.2 percent in 2013, though 17.1 percent of 11th-graders reported using electronic cigarettes or vaping devices.

• Alcohol use also declined. In 2016, 24.6 percent of 11th-graders reported drinking, down from 27.7 percent in 2013.

However, the 2016 results also raised concerns about mental and emotional health issues:

• About one in five students showed signs of depression. Results ranged from 20.9 percent for 8th-graders to 23 percent for 11th-graders.

• The percentage of 11th-graders who seriously considered suicide rose from 9.7 percent in 2013 to 12 percent in 2016.

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including education, Fargo city government, business and military affairs. He is currently The Forum's K-12 education reporter.

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