Published in the June 21, 2016 edition.


WAKEFIELD – The 2016 Wakefield Youth Risk Behavior Survey has been released and the results are encouraging in some areas but troubling in others.

The survey shows that overall substance use by local youth has trended downward, including tobacco use. But use of e-cigarettes, or “vaping,” is up. Also, suicidal thinking among youth in Wakefield is still higher than anyone wants to see, reflecting state and national trends.

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) was administered in January 2016 to 96 percent of the Wakefield Memorial High School student body and 98 percent of Galvin Middle School student body.

Developed by the Centers for Disease Control, the YRBS is administered every two years to students in seventh through 12th grade in the Wakefield Public Schools.

Compared to 2011, 80 fewer Wakefield Memorial High School (WMHS) students reported regularly using tobacco, as the numbers trended down from 16 percent in 2011 to 10 percent in 2014 to 6 percent on 2016. However, 15.9 percent of local high school students admitted that they used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days.

At the Galvin Middle School, tobacco use is also down. In 2011, 5 percent of seventh and eighth grade students reported using tobacco in the last 30 days. That number dropped to 3 percent in 2014 and fell to 0.7 percent in 2016. But 5.2 percent of seventh and eighth graders did report using e-cigarettes in the last 30 days.

The numbers reflect students’ “perception of risk of harm” from using tobacco or e-cigarettes. At the high school, 87 percent of students view tobacco use as harmful, while only 52 percent perceive risk from using e-cigarettes.

Although the 2016 numbers for marijuana use have trended downward slightly, the fact that 170 (20 percent) of WMHS students admitted regularly using marijuana remains a concern. That rate is down from 24 percent in 2011 and 23 percent in 2014.

At the Galvin, 1 percent of seventh and eighth grade students reported using marijuana in the last 30 days, down from 6 percent in 2011 and 5 percent in 2014.

The slight decline is marijuana use at the High School correlates with an increased perception of risk, as schools have stepped up efforts to counter the relaxed attitudes toward pot in the popular culture.

Among WMHS students, the perception of risk of harm from regular marijuana use declined sharply from 61 percent in 2011 to 43 percent in 2014. But the perception of risk trended back upward to 48 percent in 2016. At the Galvin, the percentage of students who viewed marijuana as harmful went from 72.5 percent in 2014 to 82.7 percent in 2016.

In terms of alcohol use, the survey revealed that 18.1 percent, or 150 WMHS students, reported getting drunk in the previous 30 days, while 37.5 percent reported consuming some alcohol in the past month. That rate of reported alcohol use has remained steady since 2011 and is higher than the state average of 33.9 percent

At the Galvin Middle School, 3.3 percent of seventh and eighth graders said they drank alcohol in the previous month, down from 6 percent in 2014.

Reported use of prescription pain relievers like Vicodin, Percocet and OxyContin rose slightly at WMHS from 2 percent in 2014 to 3 percent in 2016.

The 2016 YRBS also looked at other mental health issues and risky behaviors.

It showed that this year 15 percent of students at WMHS seriously considered committing suicide in the past 12 months, down slightly from 16 percent in 2014 but up from 9 percent in 2011. Eight percent of WMHS students said that they had actually made a suicide attempt in the past year.

At the Galvin, 16 percent of students said that they seriously considered suicide in the last year, a number that has remained steady since 2011 and is higher than the state average. Four percent reported attempting suicide in the last 12 months.

In terms of sexual activity, 11 percent of WMHS freshmen reported that they had had sexual intercourse in their lifetimes. That number increases steadily with each succeeding grade level, with 22 percent of 10th graders, 32 percent of 11th graders and 48.6 percent of WMHS seniors reporting having had sex.

Of local high school students who reported being sexually active, 84 percent of freshmen reported using condoms, but that number dropped to 41 percent for seniors.

In terms of violence and bullying, 12.2 percent of WMHS students reported being bullied online in the previous several months, down from 13.7 in 2014. Seventeen percent of WMHS students reported being bullied in school, compared to 21 percent in 2014.

At the Galvin, the frequency of reported online bullying rose slightly from 17.2 percent in 2014 to 18.7 percent this year. The frequency of in-school bullying remained virtually the same at 29 percent in 2014 and 28.6 percent in 2016.

At WMHS, 73 students reported sexual contact against their will. Fifty students reported being hurt physically or sexually by someone that they were dating.

In 2014, 4 percent of Galvin students said that they did not feel safe attending school. Twenty-seven GMS students (4.9 percent) said that did not feel safe attending school in 2016.