March 22, 2019

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Taking stock of today’s teens

The kids are all right, but youth health survey identifies some troubling trends

This article was published 16/1/2015 (1525 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Apart from a majority of teens not getting enough exercise, or sleep, or far too many of them eating too much junk, feeling down all the time, or being surgically attached to screens. Apart from those who still smoke, who drive impaired, who risk melanoma, who associate smokeless tobacco with athletic activity, who have sex without a condom.

The data from the Manitoba youth health survey report can be overwhelming in their breadth. Conducted over the winter of 2012-2013 among 64,218 students in grades 7 to 12 at 476 schools, the study lays out the mental and physical health of our kids and the choices they make.

Are our children normal?

“Yes, absolutely — they generally are healthy, they generally are well-adjusted,” said Tannis Erickson, an epidemiologist at CancerCare Manitoba and survey co-ordinator for a coalition of provincial federal, community, and institutional partners who conducted the survey of roughly 80 per cent of the students in those grades.

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This article was published 16/1/2015 (1525 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Apart from a majority of teens not getting enough exercise, or sleep, or far too many of them eating too much junk, feeling down all the time, or being surgically attached to screens. Apart from those who still smoke, who drive impaired, who risk melanoma, who associate smokeless tobacco with athletic activity, who have sex without a condom.

Acadia Junior High School students take part in warm-up exercises in their gym class. Of the 65,218 Manitoba students surveyed in 2012/13, 46 per cent participate in the recommended amount of daily physical activity.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Acadia Junior High School students take part in warm-up exercises in their gym class. Of the 65,218 Manitoba students surveyed in 2012/13, 46 per cent participate in the recommended amount of daily physical activity.

The data from the Manitoba youth health survey report can be overwhelming in their breadth.
Conducted over the winter of 2012-2013 among 64,218 students in grades 7 to 12 at 476 schools, the study lays out the mental and physical health of our kids and the choices they make.

Are our children normal?

"Yes, absolutely — they generally are healthy, they generally are well-adjusted," said Tannis Erickson, an epidemiologist at CancerCare Manitoba and survey co-ordinator for a coalition of provincial federal, community, and institutional partners who conducted the survey of roughly 80 per cent of the students in those grades.

However, only Manitoba conducts such a survey, although Saskatchewan’s first is under way.

"We’re a little bit ahead of the curve — other provinces don’t do this," said Erickson.

The previous study was in 2008, allowing some comparisons, though the more recent one added areas and amended some questions. The next provincial school survey will be in the winter of 2016-2017.

It seems counterintuitive, but the department of education’s increased emphasis on physical activity and the introduction of compulsory grades 11 and 12 physical education credits coincide with a drop over four years in physical activity and healthy body weight.

While healthy body weight only dropped from 73 per cent of teens to 72 per cent, it’s still down, despite all the resources poured into greater youth health.

About the survey

Click to Expand

The second Manitoba youth health survey was conducted from October to March of the 2012-2013 school year; the first had been done in 2008-2009, the next will be in the winter of the 2016-2017 school year.

About 80 per cent of students in grades 7 to 12 took part, 64,218 students from 476 schools. The healthy sexuality section was optional for schools, and was completed by 46,089 students.

The study was conducted by a partnership of provincial and federal departments, health care institutions, and community organizations.

Read the full report (PDF)

And teens getting enough exercise has also dropped, from 48 to 43 per cent — neither number a cause for celebration. By Grade 12, only 39 per cent of students get enough.

"I’m very happy to see a decrease in smoking, to see a decrease in alcohol and drug use. I’m sorry to see physical activity has gone down, healthy body weight has gone down," Erickson said.

University of Manitoba college of medical rehabilitation Prof. Dean Kreillaars, a physical fitness expert, lauded the study’s scope, but cautioned that some self-reporting can be inaccurate. People tend to believe they perform more physical activity than they are really doing, he said.

What did alarm the researchers were some behaviours that are poor choices, but ones over which kids have control, Erickson said.

One in 10 girls used a tanning bed at least once, and almost one in five girls in Grade 12.

Only 12 per cent of students are tobacco smokers, but six per cent of boys and one per cent of girls reported using smokeless tobacco products such as snuff, chew, and sniff.

"There’s really been a whole explosion in the marketplace over the products available," she said. "Alarmingly, it’s the kids on the sports teams. My understanding is, the kids are still doing it on school property."

Less than one out of four kids gets the proper nine hours of sleep each night — a concern because there is a correlation between adequate sleep and healthy body weight.

Acadia Junior High School students take part in warm-up exercises in their gym class.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Acadia Junior High School students take part in warm-up exercises in their gym class.

The department of education is using the survey results to help develop a strategy on youth mental health, said a department official. Fifty-seven per cent reported flourishing mental health, however 53 per cent of girls and 35 per cent of boys saying they were so sad in the previous year that they stopped doing normal activities. Meanwhile, seven per cent of girls and five per cent of boys considered themselves to be languishing.

"It’s a precursor to depression," she said.
At Maples Collegiate, a group of Grade 12 students weren’t totally convinced all the data reflected their world — or that adults understand the world teenagers inhabit.

Sleeping at least nine hours? Seriously?

Jaskomal Gail said students their age can’t go to bed by 10 p.m., especially if they’re involved in extracurricular activities or hold down part-time jobs. "They stay up late at night, trying to finish their homework," she said.

Physical activity guidelines?

The clock has only so much time each day, Kaigan Olson said. "The hours, it’s way harder, it’s harder to find the time."

Zac Schmitke is a long-time competitive swimmer, but that was far easier to fit into his life in Grade 7. "I’m staying up way later, because I have a three-hour workout," followed by homework, he said.

The students acknowledged they’d all have more time for exercise, school work and sleep were they not entrapped in the Internet and its accomplices. Fifty per cent of students reported three or more hours of screen time on weekdays.

"Everyone’s on their phone in class, it’s always beside you," Arabella Robles said.

Other key stats

Click to Expand

• 50 per cent of students spend three or more hours on screen for non-education reasons each weekday, and 66 per cent on weekends

• 41 per cent of girls and 34 per cent of boys have been bullied, taunted, or ridiculed in the past year

• six per cent of students have driven after drinking alcohol, and six per cent have driven after using illegal drugs

• 20 per cent of students within a month previous to writing the survey had consumed five or more drinks in two hours or less

• 17 per cent of students split almost equally by gender had used illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter drugs for the purposes of getting high in the month prior to taking the survey

• 74 per cent of respondents have not had sex; of the other 26 per cent, less than half say they always use a condom, leaving 52 per cent who at least once have had unprotected sex (given response rates, that’s about five per cent of the students in grades 7 to 12)

• 79 per cent of students report eating salty or sugary snacks every day

• 55 per cent of students get to school actively

"Nobody’s checking for research, let’s be honest." laughed Roshelle Raquin. "People are focused on what’s next on Twitter, and who’s posted on Instagram."

One thing that’s changed — overt bullying is way down, Charmaine Mendoza said. "If we witness bullying in school, people will stand up."

But there’s still a general denial that some students need mental health help because so many put on a happy mask.

Alcohol use is higher than the numbers show, the students said. Twenty per cent of students reported consuming five or more drinks within a couple of hours on at least one day in the past month.

"Every party nowadays, there has to be alcohol," Aaron Amado said.

"It’s skyrocketing — it would be way higher," Jay Punj said.

Still, the Maples students were stunned so many people are reporting they’ve driven drunk. Six per cent of students reported having driven one or more times after consuming alcohol in their lifetime; three per cent reported doing so in the past month.

Correlating the vast data, however, only goes so far.

An alarming 43 per cent of boys and 34 per cent of girls eat fast food at least once a day, but no one has asked them why, or for which meal, or what they’re eating. And no one has compared the data from a school surrounded by fast food outlets or from a school several kilometres away from the smell of fried grease.

Researchers have not linked data on sexual activity to teen pregnancies information. About two-thirds of the respondents answered questions on healthy sexuality: 74 per cent have not had sex, and of those who had, only 48 per cent said they always use a condom.

There has been much gnashing of teeth in recent years over Manitoba children’s bottom-of-the-pack standing in national and international testing in math, science, and reading. There has been speculation socioeconomic factors are part of the reason, but the study did not ask students how they’re doing academically.

"I would love to see data along that line," said Pembina Trails School Division physical education consultant Geoff Brewster, though he added the framing of the questions would be difficult.

Manitoba Teachers’ Society president Paul Olson agreed.
"It’s a brilliant question. I hope they do that — there’s time (before the next survey)," Olson said, adding he has no doubt that academic performance links to external factors.

The data set "is a pretty compelling picture of the challenges that have nothing to do with school."

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

 

Mental health

What the study says:

53 per cent of girls and 35 per cent of boys report feeling so sad or hopeless in the past year that they stopped doing some usual activities for a while.

What an expert says:

"We consistently underestimate the mental health needs of middle and high school students who face multiple stresses in their day-to-day lives. Bullying, family conflict, over-scheduling, body image worry, peer pressure about drugs, alcohol or sex, and negative social media attention are but a few examples of the day-to-day stresses which can express themselves in mental health symptoms such as hopelessness and suicidal thinking."

53 per cent of girls and 35 per cent of boys report feeling so sad or hopeless in the past year that they stopped doing some usual activities for a while.

TRIBUNE MEDIA / MCT

53 per cent of girls and 35 per cent of boys report feeling so sad or hopeless in the past year that they stopped doing some usual activities for a while.

— Dr. Keith Hildahl, psychiatrist, Manitoba Adolescent Treatment Centre

 

The numbers overall aren’t a surprise, but they really highlight the importance of mental health programs for students. On any given day, there are a lot of kids who need help, Hildahl said.

"The deep-rooted cultural stigma about mental health continues to be a barrier for young people in seeking help when they feel overwhelmed and hopeless," he said.

"We have an obligation to teach young people how to promote good mental health in their own lives and to give them the knowledge to understand the signs and symptoms of important mental health disorders. It is essential to provide them with the skills to access help for themselves and for their classmates.

"Mental health issues are lifelong and they usually begin in the formative years. We should be making a major societal investment in mental health education in schools to pave the way for better adult mental health."

 

Student reaction:

"It’s harder to see if people are sad; people are getting more accustomed to faking a smile."

— Arabella Robles, Grade 12, Maples Collegiate

"So many people are faking to themselves that they’re happy, they don’t want to go see someone."

— Kajal Tomar, Maples, Grade 12

 

Physical activity

What the study says:

46 per cent of students (52 per cent of boys and 40 per cent of girls) participate in the recommended amount of daily physical activity, dropping to 39 per cent by Grade 12.

What an expert says:

46 per cent of students participate in the recommended amount of daily physical activity.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

46 per cent of students participate in the recommended amount of daily physical activity.

"The goal is not necessarily to make students athletes — the goal is to make people lifelong-active. At Vincent Massey Collegiate, we saw students taking a lot more advantage of the fitness centre in grades 11 and 12. We offer a huge range of programs, all taught by specialists. The majority of kids in school are physically active. Nutrition is being focused on."

— Geoff Brewster, physical education consultant for Pembina Trails School Division

 

Fort Richmond Collegiate, for example, has an active-living centre with fitness equipment and a kitchen that students can use.

 

It’s also a great advantage to have students exercise before going to the toughest class of their day: "There’s a release of chemicals in the brain when you do physical activity, and there are greater opportunities for learning," Brewster said.

Seeing the data from individual schools will provide a lot of insight into how the students are doing, he said.

"They’re a lot more valuable than province-wide. I’m salivating at getting those, compared to 2009."

 

Student reaction:

"By the time you reach Grade 12, you are focused on studies; I can see they’re more focused on exams and getting into university."

— Zac Schmitke, Grade 12, Maples Collegiate

 

Smokeless tobacco

What the study says:

Six per cent of boys and one per cent of girls report using smokeless tobacco products such as snuff, chew, and sniff.

What an expert says:

"This is a problem that’s existed for quite some time; it’s a quiet problem. You aren’t going to smell it on their breath, you’re not going to smell it on their clothes — it’s an insidious problem.

Six per cent of boys and one per cent of girls report using smokeless tobacco products such as snuff, chew, and sniff.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Six per cent of boys and one per cent of girls report using smokeless tobacco products such as snuff, chew, and sniff.

"People put chew in their mouths and hold it for a long time. The amount of nicotine they’re absorbing in an hour could be equivalent to eight cigarettes. People become addicted, because of amount of nicotine."

— Murray Gibson, executive director of the Manitoba Tobacco Reduction Alliance

 

It’s not clear how many students are using smokeless products inside school: "It would be difficult to make that call. It wouldn’t surprise me," Gibson said. "The regulations are no-smoking on school property."

 

Athletes use the products because they’re a relaxant, yet there is evidence they are a stimulus and could enhance performance.

"It also adds some mental clarity for some people. In sports, it’s become part of the social norm, it becomes the thing to do within that social group. Once it gets into a sport, it goes right through, it creates its own environment," he said.

Half of those who put smokeless tobacco into their mouths regularly will develop pre-cancerous lesions.

Smoking is down because of awareness, bans, cost, and especially denormalization, he added: "Smoking is no longer being seen as the cool thing to do."

MANTRA is launching a campaign against smokeless products by placing posters in schools and community centres.

 

Student reaction:

"Every time I’ve been to a high school hockey game, you see it. They think it’s cool, too — it’s just gross."

— Kaigan Olson, Grade 12, Maples Collegiate

 

Fast food

What the study says:

43 per cent of boys and 34 per cent of girls eat fast food at least once a day, 41 per cent of boys and 36 per cent of girls eat at least seven or eight servings of fruit and vegetables every day.

What an expert says:

43 per cent of boys and 34 per cent of girls eat fast food at least once a day.

ROBERT F. BUKATY / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

43 per cent of boys and 34 per cent of girls eat fast food at least once a day.

"What we don’t know for sure is where or when they had fast food. It’s a pretty high number — this isn’t an occasional treat.

"A lot of this is moving deck chairs on the Titanic. Subway doesn’t call itself fast food, Tim Horton’s calls itself quick service (their products contain a lot of sodium and large amounts of bread). There are all kinds of convenience foods that are just as bad (as burger joints) you can find in a grocery store. You can get all kinds of fast food there. The biggest concern is it normalizes it, it becomes expected, it’s what kids think their diet should be.

"I don’t think it’s unusual these numbers are so high. We’ve normalized these things, it’s part of youth culture...t he most vulnerable section of our population is children."

— University of Manitoba nutritional sciences Prof. Joyce Slater

 

Having a high school located in a no-fast-food wasteland is a challenge, not a barrier, Slater said.

 

"It’s a bit harder, but it’s not impossible. Once they hit 16, they pile into someone’s car."

However, nutrition experts are skeptical of the fruit and vegetable claims, and are skeptical how much juice and potatoes the students are counting: "That number is way too high. Adults don’t do that," she said.

 

Student reaction:

"People will choose fast food because it’s cheaper...$10 for Macdonald’s, or $10 for some carrots and hummus."

— Roshelle Raquin, Grade 12, Maples Collegiate

 

Sleep

What the study says:

Students require at least nine hours of sleep on school nights, only 22 per cent attain or surpass that.

What an expert says:

Only 22 per cent attain or surpass nine hours of sleep per night.

SARAH KEARNEY / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Only 22 per cent attain or surpass nine hours of sleep per night.

"There is a growing body of research that sleep is the new exercise. Sleep is now the up-and-coming one we need to target. Kids who don’t get enough sleep are three to four times more likely to be overweight. For parents, this is emerging as the next big risk factor. The hormones that control your appetite are out of whack; they’re eating more than their bodies would normally tell them to eat."

— Dr. Jon McGavock, University of Manitoba professor of medicine, Children’s Hospital Research Institute

 

The statistics cover sleep duration, but researchers also need to know when and how well children are sleeping.

 

"Are they snoring, moving around a lot, getting a deep sleep?" McGavock said.

Parents need to treat sleep like drugs or alcohol, they need to set rules, and that includes not letting kids stay up until 2 a.m. on weekends and then sleep for 10 or more hours.

"The worst thing for kids before they go to bed is having that screen in front of your face," be it a TV, cell phone, or computer, he said.

"Shut down the screen time before the child goes to bed, and replace that with a book."

 

Student reaction:

"Having a job, you’re not going to be asleep by 10."

— Jay Punj, Grade 12, Maples Collegiate

"People work 5-10 p.m., and then do their homework."

— Roshelle Raquin, Grade 12, Maples Collegiate

 

Tanning equipment

What the study says:

10 per cent of girls and four per cent of boys have used tanning equipment.

What an expert says:

10 per cent of girls and four per cent of boys have used tanning equipment.

CHRIS SEWARD / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

10 per cent of girls and four per cent of boys have used tanning equipment.

"The bottom line is, with any indoor tanning, we’ll see an unnecessary increased risk of melanoma. We’ve seen an incredible increase, especially since the 1960s. Indoor tanning, for must of the time, is for superficial reasons."

— Elizabeth Harland, cancer prevention co-ordinator with CancerCare Manitoba

Researchers believe that even one use of a tanning bed before the age of 35 increases the risk of melanoma by 75 per cent.

Figures showing one Manitoba teen in 10 has used indoor tanning equipment are not surprising.

"Not at all — We get much higher as we get close to Grade 12; 19 per cent of girls in grade 12 have indoor-tanned at least once. Indoor tanning is marketed to women, it’s promoted for proms," Harland said.

Healthy Living Manitoba has proposed the province ban indoor tanning equipment, and the next move is up to the Selinger government.

"Parents are either unaware of the risk, or go indoor tanning themselves and don’t see it as a risk," Harland said.

Student reaction:

"They feel like they couldn’t get dark enough, fast enough."

— Aaron Amado, Grade 12, Maples Collegiate

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