Fulton County youth alcohol, cigarette use falls, report says

By Drew Stambaugh - [email protected]

There were both positives and areas with room for improvement in the 2021 Fulton County Youth Health Status Report, released to the public last week.

Positives included use of alcohol and cigarettes among youth in grades 6-12.

“We saw a significant decrease in youth use of alcohol and cigarettes and continued decrease in number of youth engaging in sexual intercourse despite the potential negative impact of the COVID pandemic,” said Beth Thomas, Healthy Choices Caring Communities (HC3) program director.

Just three percent of Fulton County youth surveyed reported smoking cigarettes in the last 30 days. That is a 57% decrease from the survey in 2012, she said.

Among students in grades 6-12, 93% were not current alcohol drinkers. That is a 9% increase over 2012.

There was also a decrease in the number of parents that provided alcohol to youth.

“We believe the positive gains reflected in this data is a direct result of the investment our community has made in our young people, through collaborative efforts such as Fulton County Partners for Health, Fulton County Family & Children First Council, Four County Suicide Prevention Coalition, HC3, and YAC as well as the commitment from our local school districts through our school-based prevention programs (BOSS, BTIO/Love Notes, My Plate, Project Respect, RoX, and Signs of Suicide),” Thomas said.

To complete the report, over 350 adolescents in Fulton County completed surveys in school after being selected at random. Responses were anonymous.

“Many of our data release attendees expressed surprise over the relative stability (compared to 2018 data) of our youth mental health data,” said Thomas. “Many youth serving professionals wondered if young people recognized the symptoms they may be experiencing (described as feelings of being overwhelmed, decision fatigue, and racing thoughts) as symptoms of anxiety or depression.”

In 2021, 29% of Fulton County youth reported they felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more that they stopped doing some usual activities. That was the same amount as in 2018, but an increase from 2012.

Ten percent of youth reported they had seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months, which is a 33% decrease from 2018.

Mental health, along with marijuana and vape use were cited as Thomas as areas that could be improved in Fulton County.

We believe many of our young people are “self-medicating” with these illegal products to cope with anxiety, stress or depression. As many states and communities consider legalization of marijuana products for medicinal or commercial use, we need to consider how this is negatively impacting our young people,” she said.

Six percent of youth reported using marijuana in the last 30 days. In 2018, the number was 7% and in 2012 it was 12%.

In 2021, 16% of youth reported using vape products.

Weight and nutrition statistics were a mixed bag. While 18% were obese, according to Body Mass Index (BMI) by age, that is actually a 5% decrease from 2018. However, it is a 29% increase from 2012.

Fulton County figures for high school students were higher than both the most recent state and national averages from 2019. While 22% of Fulton County high school students were obese, 17% were in Ohio and 16% nationwide.

Physical activity levels of local high school students were similar or higher than state and nationwide averages. Eighteen percent of Fulton County youth were eating five or more servings of fruit and/or vegetables per day, a 13% increase over 2012 data.

Other findings included:

• Ten percent of Fulton County youth had sexual intercourse at least once in their lives which is a 41% decrease from the 2012 data.

• Sixty percent of youth reported they are planning to stay abstinent until marriage, which is a 40% increase from the 2012 data.

• More than one-third (34%) of Fulton County youth had been bullied in the past 12 months.

“While the youth have provided us with many data points to consider we know the survey is not the whole story,” said Thomas. “We encourage our community members and stakeholders to share their stories, experiences, reports, and other data sources which might help us to better understand how our young people are doing as they attend school, work, play, and grow up in our community. These stories can be shared online at https://forms.gle/QDs24qKfYzL8smak8 or emailed to [email protected]

By Drew Stambaugh

[email protected]