Teens are (mostly) making healthier choices – but mental health is a concern

Fewer teens have sex or use drugs, alcohol and tobacco. But more smoke e-cigs and have mental health concerns.

The Minnesota Department of Health released the results of the 2016 Minnesota Student Survey on Tuesday, and it shows most teens are making healthier choices than previous years.

The survey is conducted every three years and is completely voluntary and anonymous. Fifth, eighth, ninth and 11th graders are asked questions about things like school climate, bullying, out-of-school activities, healthy eating, emotional health, substance use, connections with school and family, and many other topics.

“There are many factors outside of school that can prevent children from succeeding,” said Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius. “That is why the Minnesota Student Survey is so valuable."

Cassellius explained how the data is used to identify the issues kids and teens are facing so that it can be better addressed.

Below are some of the survey's findings.

Less drugs and alcohol, more e-cigs

The survey found that fewer teens are using tobacco or other drugs. However, there's been a spike in electronic cigarette use.

In 2016, 8.4 percent of 11th grade students reported smoking cigarettes in the past 30 days. That's down from 12.2 percent in 2013. Those are the lowest numbers ever reported in this survey.

Alcohol use also dropped. The survey shows 24.6 percent of 11th graders reported drinking in the past 30 days. Three years ago, 27.7 percent did.

Marijuana use also fell for both ninth and 11th grade students. The percentage of ninth graders who reported using it in the past 30 days fell from 9.4 percent to 6.8 percent. And the percentage of 11th graders fell from 16.6 percent to 15.7 percent.

However, 17.1 percent reported using electronic cigarettes or vaping devices in the past 30 days. The Department says that's a major health concern.

Other drugs

The next most commonly used drugs for students were prescription ADHD drugs and prescription painkillers.

The survey found 5 percent of 11th grade students reported misusing ADHD or ADD drugs in the past year.

And 4.8 percent reported misusing prescription painkillers like OxyContin.

Bigger mental health concerns

The Department says the survey's results raise concerns regarding the mental and emotional health of teens.

According to depression screening questions in the survey, about one in five students have shown signs of depression in the past two weeks. That's up from 2013.

The percentage of 11th graders who said they seriously considered committing suicide in the past year increased from 9.7 percent in 2013 to 12 percent in 2016.


The Department says the survey found a lot of disparities looking at students of different races, sexualities and income levels.

Like students who reported suffering some sort of economic hardship – like homelessness or food shortages – were most likely to report having consumed alcohol, smoked cigarettes or used marijuana.

Meanwhile, students who said they were gay, bisexual, or lesbian had drastically higher levels of mental health problems.

Other findings

The survey also found that fewer high schoolers are having sex. However, fewer are also using condoms.

The use of indoor tanning has also dropped dramatically from 33 percent of 11th grade white females to 8.7 percent.

Obesity rates are on the rise. The percentage of ninth graders who are obese went from 9.1 percent to 10.2 percent.

The results were similar for students in eighth and 11th grades. The obesity rate was also slightly higher for females than for males.

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