Analysis: Today's teens are less likely to smoke, drink or have sex, but they're not eating veggies
This month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the results of its 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance study, a biennial survey that seeks to quantify the scope and magnitude of teen misbehavior.
The survey finds that risky behavior - drinking, using drugs, having sex - is down nearly across the board among America's high school students, relative to either a few years or a few decades ago. But there is one domain where, alas, today's teens are falling behind their peers from previous generations. Like all of the behaviors surveyed, it's an activity that the CDC has warned can "contribute to the leading causes of death and disability among youth and adults."
Many of today's teenagers are not eating their vegetables.
Whereas 4.2 percent of high school students reported no prior-week vegetable consumption in 1999, that share rose to 7.2 percent last year - a 71 percent increase overall.
Conversely, the prevalence of vegetable-eating among high school students has fallen, from 64.5 percent in 1999 to 59.4 percent in 2017. One somewhat bright spot in the data: The share of students reporting three or more servings of vegetables today has held steady over that time period, at about 14 percent.
Fruit intake, meanwhile, is flat across the board.
Veggies aside, the report is basically just full of good news for teens in the 2017 data. Marijuana use continues to drop, defying legalization opponents' predictions of what would happen after states began legalizing the drug. In fact, the survey's state-level data shows that teen marijuana use has fallen slightly in Colorado in the years since the state legalized.
Since 1991, regular alcohol use among high schoolers has dropped by more than 20 percentage points, as has heavy (3-plus hours per day) TV watching. Monthly cigarette use has fallen by more than two-thirds, while the percentage of high schoolers reporting they have had sex has fallen by more than one-quarter.
So if they're not drinking, not smoking, not doing drugs, not watching TV and not having sex, what exactly are today's teens doing with their free time? The survey offers some clues. For starters, they're spending a lot more time on their computers, phones and video game systems. The share of teens who report 3-plus hours a day on those activities has nearly doubled, from 22.1 percent in 2003 to 43 percent in 2017. You'll notice that's basically a mirror image of the drop in heavy TV watching, suggesting that many teens are ditching the TV for their computers and phones.
Spending a lot of time online can bring problems of its own, of course, but on balance heavy internet use seems like much less of a clear and present danger to kids' well-being than, say, drinking, fighting and having unprotected sex.
Especially if they remember to eat their veggies.