The Iowa Department of Public Healths survey coordinator Pat McGovern says reported alcohol use was down among both middle school and 11th graders. “That downward trend is continuing and it’s really true for most if not all substances. So not just alcohol, looking at marijuana use, cigarette use, other elicit drugs,” McGovern says.
The survey is done every two years and looking back to the last couple of surveys, alcohol use among Iowa 11th graders fell from 26.4 percent in 2012 to 21.3 percent in 2016. Binge drinking fell more than 11 percentage points from 24 percent in 2012 to 12.9 percent in 2016. Eighth graders report alcohol use fell from 7.2 percent in 2012 to 5.4 percent in 2016.
Binge drinking among eight graders went from 7.6 percent in 2012 to 2.3 percent in 2016. McGovern says drinking among sixth graders is usually low and stayed about the same in this survey.
E-cigarettes are also part of the survey. He says they just added questions in 2014 and 2016 regarding e-cigarette use and those numbers didn’t change much, but he says the use was a little higher than other tobacco products.
McGovern says they ask some questions to try and get an idea about what is driving the young people’s use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs. He says the responses to those questions caught his attention.
“One thing that I noticed and am looking at our in results of 2016, is that while reported uses are going down, some of those attitudinal questions especially — ‘How wrong do you think it is for someone of your age to do these things’ — is moving in the wrong direction,” McGovern says.
He cites the question about whether it is risky to drink alcohol every day as an example of something that raised concern. McGovern says most students still say it is wrong, but the number who think it is wrong has declined from the last survey.
“So that’s something that we will be keeping a closer eye on and doing some additional research digging into our data and actually looking at some of the nuances and what may be driving that and if there are some other things that we can do to help change the trajectory for the attitudes,” McGovern says.
One other area where McGovern wants to do more evaluation of the numbers is the amount of students who reported having seriously thought about suicide. The percentage of 11th graders who said they had seriously thought about killing themselves in the last 12 months increased by 1.7 percent from 2012 to 2016 and among all grades surveyed, 13.3 percent said they had seriously considered suicide in the past year.
“One of the things that I hope we’re able to do as time permits is to dive into that area as well and see if there is any correlation or relationship to any of the other questions,” McGovern says. “For example, looking at those students who reported using alcohol in the last 30 days. Are their responses to the suicide related questions any different than those students who didn’t?” McGovern says the job now is for the department to look through and find the areas where they need to focus more attention.
He says that is a big job as the survey has more than 200 questions covering a variety of topics. They will be releasing school-by-school and county-by-county data in the coming weeks.
For more information about the survey, visit: www.iowayouthsurvey.iowa.gov