Johns Hopkins Gazette: September 18, 1995

Fewer Teens Face Greater Health Risks

Steve Libowitz
Homewood News and Information

     A recent report prepared on the health of Maryland's
adolescents shows that although there are fewer teens today than
25 years ago in the state, they are at greater risk from a number
of health hazards ranging from sexually transmitted diseases to
violence and smoking.

     The report, "The Health of Maryland's Adolescents," was
prepared by the School of Public Health' Center for Adolescent
Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, one of 13 national
centers funded by the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention,. The Hopkins center focuses on adolescents in urban
settings. Its partner institution at Salisbury State University
focuses on rural youth.

     The CAHPDP report paints a portrait of today's Maryland
teens and outlines the challenges they face in order to enjoy a
healthy and safe adult life.

     "While positive trends, such as the decline in deaths due to
motor vehicle crashes, are encouraging, the rapid rise in deaths
that result from homicide is very troubling," said center
director Cheryl Alexander, a professor in the school's Department
of Maternal and Child Health.

     Among the positive trends reported by Alexander is a rise in
the number of teens who graduated from high school after four
years. Fully 77 percent of the state's high school students
graduated on time in 1993, compared to 73 percent in 1990.

     Deaths from motor vehicle accidents declined from 33 percent
to 25 percent between 1988 and 1993, the report states. And the
number of births to teens younger than 20 has declined since

     "We don't know precise reasons for these positive trends,"
Alexander said, "but we think schools are doing a better job of
keeping students from dropping out and helping them meet the
criteria for state-wide exams. And the decline in car crashes may
be related to a combination of factors: a decline in adolescent
drinking and driving, an increased use of seatbelts and
enforcement of speed limits."

     The report also outlines trends that indicate threats to the
health and well-being of Maryland adolescents.

     In a short two-year span between 1990 and 1992, the number
of arrests for violent crimes committed by adolescents increased
by 17 percent. In 1993, homicide was the second leading cause of
death for all 10- to 19-year-olds. In that same year, teens
accounted for 30 percent of all cases of gonorrhea reported in

     "This report includes a large urban community, and like
similar communities today, it is plagued by youths' easy access
to handguns and other social issues, such as poverty and some
teens' inability to see a positive future," Alexander said.

     "In the next few years," she added, "we will need to monitor
the changes in these indicators of adolescent health, so we can
develop effective preventive programs that will meet the needs of
Maryland's youth."

     "What I find most frightening in this report is that what
we're seeing in the adolescent population mirrors society as a
whole and perhaps society's future, since these people are the
future," she said. "But what I find hopeful is that although 40
percent of 10th graders in 1992 reported drinking in the past
month, 60 percent said they didn't use alcohol. In other words,
there are adolescents out there who are not engaging in
risk-taking behaviors and who are making healthy lifestyle

     "Public health research is becoming more and more interested
in what factors contribute to the resilience of some youth in a
difficult environment, learning what are the characteristics that
make some kids succeed," Alexander said. 

     Copies of "The Health of Maryland's Adolescents," which was
funded by the Maryland State Department of Health and Mental
Health, are available from the Center for Adolescent Health, 2007
E. Monument St., Baltimore, Md. 21205, or by calling (410)

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