Epidemic of Multiple Health Risks Among US Youth

Epidemic of Multiple Health Risks Among US Youth

Both youth and adults in the US are likely to experience multiple health risks.  National data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that millions of American adolescents experience key risk behaviors known to harm their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.  Many of these risk behaviors are associated with substance use.  For example:  

  • 66% of US adolescents have tried and 35% currently drink alcohol
  • One in 10 currently drive after drinking, and 22% ride with a drinking driver
  • Over 1 in 5 (21%) currently binge drink alcohol
  • ·40% have tried and 23% currently use marijuana
  • 41% have tried and 23% currently smoke cigarettes
  • 18% have used prescription drugs without a doctors script

In addition to risk behaviors associated with substance use, many youth are also exposed to chronic disease risks.  For example:

  • Only 27% of US adolescents were physically active for 60 minutes every day
  • 41% use a computer three or more hours a day that is not for school work
  • Only 38% ate breakfast every day
  • Only 16% ate vegetables, and 22% ate fruit 3 or more times a day
  • Only 13% drank three or more glasses of milk last week, while 27% drank soda every day
  • Only 32% got 8 hours of sleep on school nights

These data show that American youth are at risk for many behaviors that are harmful to their health, development and well-being.  In fact, research indicates that the majority of US youth (53%) experience two or more co-existing risk behaviors, and over a third (36%) three or more risk behaviors.  Together, multiple risk habits interact to compound the pain, suffering and sadness youth and their families experience by increasing the likelihood of injury, illness, personal and social problems, and premature death.    

Many of these risk behaviors start in early adolescence, increase throughout a young person’s life, and typically peak in young adulthood.  However, even adults in the US commonly experience multiple risks to their health and well-being.  In addition, many harmful behaviors are interrelated and share underlying risk and protective factors, such as negative self-images and lack of self-regulation skills. 

Risk behaviors like alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other drug use are associated with an increased likelihood of experiencing other risk behaviors, including misuse and abuse of current substances, initiation of new substance use, violence, bullying, unprotected sex and suicide.  In addition, risk habits are associated with a decreased probability of participating in health-enhancing behaviors, like physical activity and healthy eating. 

The good news is that wellness habits like physical activity are linked to an increase in other healthy behaviors as well as a decrease in risk behaviors like substance use initiation and continuation.  While these associations may or may not be causative, they indicate critical behavior connections for planning wellness-based prevention and promoting positive youth development.

Introducing a Solution

Solving the national epidemic of multiple health risks among youth and adults requires using evidence-based programs that integrate alcohol and drug use prevention and recovery with wellness promotion.  Prevention Plus Wellness provides the only tailored, holistic programs in the country which address substance use and chronic disease risk behaviors in a single intervention and setting, to cost-effectively improve the “whole health” of participating youth and adults.

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