For Release: May 4, 2005
Survey Provides 2003 Snapshot of New Jersey Teen Behavior
The New Jersey Department of Education and the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services today released the 2003 Student Health Survey, an indicator of how many public high school students are practicing good health habits and how many are engaged in risky behavior.
However, state officials cautioned that because the number of students and schools who ultimately agreed to participate in the 2003 survey did not comprise a response rate large enough for valid statistical weighting, direct comparisons between the 2003 results and the results of prior bi-annual surveys conducted by DOE should not be made.
Schools and classes within those schools are randomly selected to take part in each survey. The anonymity of the schools and students is protected and participation is voluntary (although parents also had to provide written permission for their children to be involved), but if the selected schools or individual students refuse to take part, they cannot be replaced by others without affecting the random nature of the sample.
"Therefore we have to view this as more of a snapshot of what was going on in 2003 with the sample of students who completed the questionnaire and not project it as being reflective of the entire high school population of New Jersey," said Assistant Commissioner of Education Isaac Bryant. "It has value to researchers, program developers, parents and teens, but it shouldnt be used to make statistical conclusions about behavioral trends."
Among the survey findings in the spring of 2003:
The survey was administered to 1,399 students in 26 public high schools in New Jersey. Students were presented with 92 multiple choice items covering seven broad areas of teen behavior: safety behaviors; violence; use of tobacco; use of alcohol and drugs; sexual behaviors; dietary behaviors; and physical activity. Many of the questions come from the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Assistant Commissioner Bryant noted that valid trends in teen behavior could be seen by comparing the results of the 2001 New Jersey Youth Risk Behavior Survey (the predecessor to the Student Health Survey) with a prior state-conducted survey in 1995, both of which had significantly higher levels of participation than the 2003 survey.
"For the most part, New Jersey high school students health-related behaviors were mostly unchanged during that six-year period," he said. "However, there were some notable changes, both good and bad."
According to the surveys, during the period between 1995 and 2001:
"The decline in tobacco use is especially encouraging. This report mirrors some of the health departments own survey results, which show fewer young people are smoking," said Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, Health and Senior Services Deputy Commissioner and State Epidemiologist.
"A significant portion of our Comprehensive Tobacco Control Program has been devoted to encouraging young people not to smoke, and I think were seeing the benefit of that commitment," he added.
The REBEL (Reaching Everyone By Exposing Lies) youth led anti-tobacco movement is a DHSS program specifically for high school students. Through REBEL chapters in all 21 counties and in 100 high schools, students educate their peers and communities about the dangers of tobacco use. Teens, working with advisors, create activities that appeal to their peers and get the anti-tobacco message across in an effective way.
"We believe that these self-reported student surveys are very important, not just for our planning and program evaluation, but also for parents and everyone else who works directly with teens," said Assistant Commissioner Bryant.
"The survey results help us to recognize our successes, identify priority areas for increased attention, set informed goals for student behavior in high schools, shift emphasis in health instruction to address current issues, and secure public support for changes in school policy," he said.
"Finally, the findings also help teens themselves to see that not everyone is doing it whatever it may be," Bryant said.
"This survey gives us a clearer idea of the medical issues and health behaviors that can affect young peoples health both now and for years to come," said Dr. Bresnitz. "By knowing these trends, we can better focus our prevention and education efforts in areas of need."
DOE provides the findings in both detailed reports and in summary brochures in order to encourage the broadest possible distribution of the information to adults who work with youth or for the benefit of youth. Printed copies of the 2001 and 2003 surveys are being distributed to school officials and local health officials to assist in program planning and encourage community collaborations that support the healthy development of teens.
DOE administers several programs designed to influence students health-related behavior. These are designed to: