2019 YRBS data shows spike in vaping, marijuana use
New Youth and Adult Reports Show Vermonters in Generally Good Health
Spike in vaping product use and continued health disparities among areas of concern
BURLINGTON, VT – Newly released data from the Department of Health show that most Vermonters are in good health, and that more adults and young people are taking steps to reduce unhealthy and risky behaviors. At the same time, trends in the use of electronic vaping products among high schoolers, increased rates of marijuana use, a suicide rate that is higher than the U.S. as a whole, and disparities in general health among adults, highlight the public health challenges Vermont continues to face.
Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD said the data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey of adults is important for both the public and policy makers. “Our health is the sum total of our genetics, environmental factors and the behavioral choices we make every day,” said Dr. Levine. “What this data tells us is that when we focus on risky behaviors through prevention and education, reducing stigma and offering community-level supports, we can bend the curve and improve health outcomes.”
Youth Risk Behavior Survey – High School Students
The latest results from the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) of Vermont high school students show significant improvement over the past 10 years in many risky behaviors. The 2019 survey included questions about unintentional injuries and violence, physical activity and nutrition, substance use, mental health, and protective factors such as community engagement. A total of 18,613 students in grades 9 – 12 from 66 schools completed the survey, representing 73% of all high school students in Vermont. Middle school data will be available later this year.
Increased rates of effective contraception use, and reductions in binge drinking and tobacco use have met or are better than the state’s Healthy Vermonters 2020 goals for these measures. Current cigarette use decreased from 9% in 2017 to 7% in 2019, better than the 2020 goal of 10%. The percentage of high school students who binge drink at least once in the past 30 days dropped from 17% to 15%. Of those students who reported being sexually active, 56% said they used most or moderately effective contraception to prevent pregnancy the last time they had sexual intercourse, an increase from 50% in 2017.
The Health Department conducts the YRBS every two years in partnership with the Agency of Education to monitor the health risk behaviors of Vermont’s middle and high school students.
Suicide and Mental Health
Suicide attempts nearly doubled in the past 10 years, and one in every 10 high school students made a suicide plan.
High school age women, students of color and students who identify as LGBT are at a much higher risk of self-harm. LGBT students are five times more likely than all high school students to have attempted suicide in the past year. Students of color and LGBT students also use and misuse substances at a higher rate.
“I’m deeply troubled by the number of students who are at risk of self-harm and suicidal thoughts,” said Dr. Levine. “The data makes clear that the challenges faced by young people require immediate attention.”
Tobacco, E-cigarettes and Marijuana
After decades of progress to reduce tobacco use among youth, the number of high school age students who currently use tobacco has grown to 28%, up from 19% in 2017 — an increase the department largely attributes to the popularity and appeal of electronic vapor products (EVPs). Current use of EVPs by high school students more than doubled in the past two years, from 12% in 2017 to 25% in 2019.
Marijuana use during the past 30 days increased significantly, from 24% in 2017 to 27% in 2019. Among current users, vaping marijuana increased more than eight-fold, from 2% in 2017 to 17% in 2019. This stark increase raises concerns about the risk for potentially fatal lung injury associated with e-cigarette or vaping products (EVALI). These injuries are the subject of a nationwide outbreak investigation. Though a direct cause has not been determined, 80% of those hospitalized with EVALI reported using THC-containing products.
Adults – Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System
The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) tracks adult health-related behaviors, chronic health conditions and use of preventive services. Results from the 2018 survey of 6,544 adults include new data on housing and food security, tick bite exposure and hypertension self-management. The report also now includes measures by disability status and by county.
The survey found that most adults report good to excellent health, with one in seven (14%) reporting only fair or poor health. The report also reveals great disparities in health status: 22% of Vermonters with lower education levels, 29% with low income, and 40% of those with a disability reported fair or poor health.
Compared to the U.S., the rates of obesity, diabetes and chronic kidney disease are lower. However, Vermonters have a significantly higher rate of arthritis and asthma, and while the rate of depression has decreased since 2017, Vermonters report a higher rate of depression than U.S. adults overall (18%).
Additional BRFSS highlights:
Fewer older adults report receiving a flu shot in 2018 than in 2011 (54% vs 65%).
More adults report using marijuana in the past month (17%), continuing the trend of increased use each year since 2013 (7%).
Binge drinking among young adults has significantly decreased from 34% in 2011 to 27% in 2018.
Dr. Levine said that for adults especially, a health-in-all-policies approach can make a huge difference. “Vermont is consistently ranked among the healthiest states in the nation. We got there by doing the hard work of building systems of care, by building communities that foster and encourage healthy eating, physical activities and connectiveness, and by working with Vermonters where they are physically and mentally. The job doesn’t end, but we can keep improving.”
To see the YRBS and BRFSS highlights and full reports, visit healthvermont.gov