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Press Briefing Transcript

CDC Telebriefing on 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey

Thursday, June 7, 2012 at Noon ET

OPERATOR: Welcome and thank you for standing by.  At this time all participants are in a listen-only mode.  Welcome and thank you for standing by.  At this time all participants are in a listen-only mode until the question and answer session of today's conference.  At that time you may press star-1 to ask a question.  I would like to inform all parties that today's conference is being recorded.  If you have any objections, you may disconnect at this time.  I would now like to turn the conference over to Ms. Karen Hunter.  Ma'am, you may begin. 

KAREN HUNTER: Thank you, Jennifer.  And welcome to today's CDC telebriefing for the 2011 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey.  The Youth Risk Behavior Survey is an anonymous questionnaire that's administered to high school students in grades 9 through 12 every other year.  CDC conducts a national survey using its own sample set of approximately 15,000 students.  And then a number of states, counties, cities and localities conduct their own Youth Risk Behavior Survey.  The YRBS tells us what kids do but not why.  Its basic purpose is to identify the major public health risk behaviors among our nation's high school students.  I'm going to turn it over to Howell Wechsler who is the director of CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Health.  His first name is h-o-w-e-l-l.  Last name, w-e-c-h-s-l-e-r.  And he will make some brief opening comments, and then we'll open it up for questions.  Dr. Wechsler? 

HOWELL WECHSLER: Good afternoon and thank you for joining us.  I'm here to discuss the findings from the report that CDC will release today on the 2011 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey, what we call the YRBS.  YRBS tells us what high school students across the U.S. are doing related to the behaviors that most affect their health, both in the near term and throughout their lives.  The data being released today were collected from a nationally representative sample of more than 15,000 high school students in public and private schools throughout the United States.  YRBS has been conducted every two years since 1991.  So one strength of the YRBS is its ability to examine trends over a long period of time.  And we're pleased to share some good news about the trends that we're seeing in this new report. 

The 2011 national YRBS tells us that over the past two decades from 1991 to 2011, there have been important decreases in the percentage of high school students engaging in many health risk behaviors.  The most notable finding from this report, however, is the significant reduction in risk behaviors that are related to motor vehicle crashes which are the leading cause of death among youth in the United States.  They account for more than one in three teen deaths every year.  In particular, we've seen the percentage of high school students who never or rarely wore a seat belt declined from 26 percent in 1991 all the way to 8 percent in 2011.  Also, the percentage of students who rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol declined from 40 percent to 24 percent during that same time period.  From 1997 to 2011, the percentage of students who had driven a car when they had been drinking alcohol decreased from 17 percent down to 8 percent.  These trends show that we're making great progress in helping our nation's youth make positive health choices.  Over the past decade, there's been a 44 percent drop in motor vehicle crash stats in teens age 13 to 19 years old. 

Several factors are responsible for this reduction including the adoption and strengthening of graduated driver's licensing laws which phase info driving privileges for teen drivers.  Other likely factors include improved use in seat belts and decreases in alcohol-impaired driving.  We’re also encouraged for two year improvements from 2009 to 2011 in the percentages of students who wore a seat belt, did not ride with drivers who had been drinking alcohol, did not drive a car when they had been drinking alcohol, did not drink alcohol at all in the past 30 days, and did not engage in binge drinking.  Despite this progress, there's still much work to do.  The 2011 YRBS results show that our high school students still engage in risk behaviors that are harmful to their health and increase their risk for disease and injury. 

For example, for the first time, the YRBS offers national data showing that the use of technology among youth is resulting in new risks.  Specifically one in three high school students reported that they had texted or e-mailed while driving a car or other vehicle during the past 30 days.  And one in six students said that they had been bullied through e-mail, chat rooms, instant messaging, websites or texting during the past 12 months.  These survey questions about texting or e-mailing while driving and being bullied via electronic media were newly added to the YRBS in 2011 due to national concern that these behaviors have become more widespread among today's youth.  Which our data now confirm.  Texting or e-mailing while driving can have deadly consequences that are entirely preventable.  Studies show that activities such as texting are particularly dangerous because they take the driver's attention away from driving more frequently and for longer periods of time than other distractions which can result in vehicle crashes.  And due to a lack of experience behind the wheel, younger drivers under the age of 20 are at increased risk and have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes. 

YRBS results also show that from 2009 to 2011, there's been no significant progress in reducing cigarette use, while marijuana use among high school students is on the rise.  In fact, for the first time since CDC began collecting YRBS data in 1991, current marijuana use among U.S. high school students was more common than current cigarette use.  It was 23 percent compared to 18 percent.  There's no one simple solution to reducing the prevalence of health risk behaviors among high school students.  But how well we address these behaviors now will greatly impact the overall picture of health for our nation's youth in the future.  Families, schools, communities and young people themselves must work together to help solve these problems, and interventions must be based on the best research available. 

School health programs across the nation are instrumental in helping students choose healthy behaviors and avoid risky ones by providing high-quality health education, physical education, nutrition, health and counseling services that address the range of risk behaviors so prevalent among our youth.  To aid in these efforts, CDC works with other federal agencies, national organizations and state and local departments of health and social services to identify and monitor school health policies and programs to apply research, to increase the effectiveness of interventions, to enable and empower states and partners to plan and implement interventions and evaluate the impact of interventions over time.  So while we're pleased to see improvements in many behaviors related to motor vehicle crashes, naturally we're alarmed by some of the new findings, especially those involving distracted driving. 

To combat this growing trend, CDC is using science to continue to reduce the prevalence of motor vehicle crashes by developing programs and policies to change behaviors and keep drivers, passengers, bicyclists and pedestrians safer on the road every day.  With additional effort and support for evidence-based cost-effective strategies that can be implemented now, significant improvements in the nation's health can be realized.  I want to close by pointing out that I've been talking about the national YRBS data, but the report also includes data from surveys conducted with representative samples of high school students in 43 states and 21 large urban school districts.  Public health professionals, educators, youth service providers and policymakers should use these data to guide their health promotion planning decisions in each of these states and urban areas. 

KAREN HUNTER: Thank you.  Jennifer, I think we're ready to open it up for questions now. 

OPERATOR: If you would like to ask a question, please press star-1 and record your name clearly.  To withdraw your request, you may press star-2.  Once again, to ask a question, please press star-1 and record your name.  And just one moment for the first question.  Our first question comes from Mike Stobbe of the Associated Press.  Sir, your line is open. 

MIKE STOBBE: Hi, thank you for taking the question.  Hi two, actually.  One is, Dr. Wechsler, I was wondering, people I talk to felt that an issue here regarding the texting and e-mailing while driving may be a perception by teens that it's not that dangerous.  They can do it safely even if they're holding the phone against the steering wheel while the vehicle is moving.  I was wondering if you could give us some context.  Where would you rank e-mailing or texting while driving as compared to some of the other risky behaviors you discussed like wearing a seat belt or getting into a car with an inebriated driver? 

HOWELL WECHSLER: Thank you, Mike.  They are all critical things that need to be addressed to save lives and to improve the safety on the roads.  The statistics are quite compelling about distracted driving.  Clearly, it's been linked to decreased braking reaction times, inability to maintain one's lane.  So -- and we know this is particularly a problem for adolescents who are nearly three times as likely as older drivers to be involved in a fatal crash per mile driven.  So it's clearly a critical issue that needs to be addressed. 

KAREN HUNTER: Mike, did you have a second question?  Can we have the next question, please? 

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from David Beasley of Reuters News Service. 

DAVID BEASLEY: Yes, Dr. Wechsler, can you tell us how many teens die from car wrecks every year?  Approximately? 

KAREN HUNTER: We're going to turn that question over to Ruth Shults who is with CDC's motor vehicle team in our Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention and let me just quickly spell her last name.  It's s-h-u-l-t-s.  Doctor? 

RUTH SHULTS: Yes, the most recent data we have on fatalities from teenagers is from 2010.  And in 2010, there were 3,115 teens ages 13 to 19 who died in motor vehicle crashes.  That's a 44 percent reduction in the last decade.  So we've made tremendous progress in reducing teen motor vehicle deaths in the last decade. 

DAVID BEASLEY: But it's still the number one cause of death. 

RUTH SHULTS: Absolutely still the number one cause of death among teenagers. 


KAREN HUNTER: Thank you.  Next question, please. 

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Brian Latimer of NBC Latino.  Mr. Latimer, your line is now open. 

BRIAN LATIMER: Thank you for taking my question.  Actually, I have three questions, but they're rather short.  I'd like to know if Latino students are in more or less car accidents --

HOWELL WECHSLER: More or less car accidents? 

BRIAN LATIMER: …compared to other demographic parties. 

RUTH SHULTS: That's a bit of a complex question because it's important to know how much -- how much driving they do, exposure is important.  There have been some studies that have shown that once you adjust for exposure, that the risk of crash is higher among Latino drivers than white drivers, teenagers.  But, you know, you have to consider this exposure issue. 

KAREN HUNTER: And what was your next question? 

HOWELL WECHSLER: Yeah, I would like to just add to that that the YRBS results do show that Hispanic students were more likely than black or white high school students to have ridden with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.  So that's an important contributor and something to keep in mind. 

BRIAN LATIMER: Do we have a specific number for that? 

HOWELL WECHSLER: Yeah, we can get that for you momentarily.  While people are doing that, we'll get back to you in a couple minutes with that. 

BRIAN LATIMER: Thank you. 

KAREN HUNTER: Next question, please. 

OPERATOR: If you would like to ask a question, please press star-1 and record your name.  Our next question comes from Maia Szalavitz of Time online.  Your line is open. 

MAIA SZALAVITZ: Hi, thanks very much.  In some of the previous years on surveys, you've included data on drug dealing, which I did not see here.  Is that available somewhere? 

HOWELL WECHSLER: We don't have data.  We've never had data on drug dealing.  What we do have is a question that asks students whether they were able to access drugs on school campuses.  So whether any kind of drugs or illegal substances are available to them on school campuses.  And that's an obviously important variable that we track closely. 

MAIA SZALAVITZ: Right.  I thought there were some earlier versions of the survey that had a question about have you personally sold drugs. 

HOWELL WECHSLER: No, that's never been a part of it. 

MAIA SZALAVITZ: Okay, it must have been wrongly cited from somewhere.  My other question is why is California not in there? 

HOWELL WECHSLER: California tried to do the survey, but they did not succeed in completing the survey to our high standards.  So we only include the states that met all the standards.  And there were 43 states that were able to do that.  We certainly hope they'll be able to do that the next time when we do this in 2013.  Of course, there could very well be students from California in the national results.  That's a separate sample. 

KAREN HUNTER: And just to clarify, typically that means they didn't get enough of a response to the survey. 

HOWELL WECHSLER: That's the most common reason, yes.  They did not get a high enough percentage of the students responding.  I can answer Brian's question now.  The percentage of students in 2011 nationally who rode with a drinker -- who rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol was approximately 31 percent for Hispanic students, 23 percent for black students, and 22 percent for white students.  So it was significantly higher for Hispanic students. 

KAREN HUNTER: Next question, please. 

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Heidi Splete of Psychiatry News.  Your line is open. 

HEIDI SPLETE: Hi, thanks for taking my question.  First of all, I just wanted to double check, when will the complete data be available online, or are they already? 

HOWELL WECHSLER: It should be already available now through youth online data system. 

KAREN HUNTER: And we also sent the PDF to our media list this morning, so you can call the press office, and we can send it to you as well if you can't find it online. 

HOWELL WECHSLER: You can access it directly at or directly at directly with 

HEIDI SPLETE: Okay, thank you.  My actual question was what would be the take-home message for doctors, clinicians, family practice physicians or psychiatrists or anyone who deals with teenagers, what would be their takeaway from this? 

HOWELL WECHSLER: I think the issue we're highlighting is our concerns about new technologies.  Certainly we would urge clinicians to counsel their patients and to give them good advice related to distracted driving and texting while driving and to also address the electronic bullying issue. 

KAREN HUNTER: Thank you.  Next question, please. 

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Lee Bowman of Scripps Howard.  Your line is now open. 

LEE BOWMAN: Hi, thank you.  Did you talk anything about trends in terms of prescription drug use- particularly opioids?  Is that up?  Is it down?  What's going on with that? 

HOWELL WECHSLER: Thank you.  That's a great question.  We have only asked that question in two cycles of the YRBS.  So we asked it in 2009 which is when it really became obvious as a nationwide problem, and we asked it again in 2011.  And there was no change between the years.  This current year, we found that 20.7 percent of the students said that they had ever taken prescription drugs without a doctor's prescription.  And the number was very similar.  Yeah, it was 20.9 percent in 2009.  So there's been no change between 2009 and 2011.  And unfortunately, we don't have data before then. 

LEE BOWMAN: Thank you. 

KAREN HUNTER: Did you have a follow-up question?  Okay.  Next question, please. 

OPERATOR: Next question comes from David Beasley of Reuters News Service.  Sir, your line is open. 

DAVID BEASLEY: Yes, I had two very quick questions.  Are there any statistics on how many teens are killed every year directly from texting while driving?  And the second question was, if you could comment a little bit about state and local laws that make texting illegal while you're driving? 

HOWELL WECHSLER: Great questions.  Ruth Shults is going to handle those. 

RUTH SHULTS: And I think I may have some stats on that, but if he wants to ask his second question. 

HOWELL WECHSLER: Second question was about state laws. 

DAVID BEASLEY: Right.  How effective are they?  Does the CDC advocate those laws or possibly even a federal -- and just in general, are laws effective in stopping/ helping this problem? 

RUTH SHULTS: It's been a very active area for legislation in the past few years.  At this point, 44 states have outlawed texting while driving for beginning teen drivers.  Those laws are fairly new.  And few evaluations have been done to this point.  At this point, there's no current evidence that the laws have reduced crashes.  Certainly more evaluation of those laws will be forthcoming. 

HOWELL WECHSLER: And the first question, David, was the number of deaths -- do we have an idea of the number of deaths resulting from texting while driving? 

RUTH SHULTS: We have some portions, but if we want to ask the next question, I'll find those. 

KAREN HUNTER: David, if you want to contact the press office after the telebriefing, we'll try to get those statistics for you. 

DAVID BEASLEY: Okay, thanks. 

KAREN HUNTER: Next question, please. 

OPERATOR: The next question comes from Brian Latimer of NBC Latino.  Your line is open. 


BRIAN LATIMER: Hello again.  I was wondering what percentage of Latino students text and drive. 

HOWELL WECHSLER: What percentage of Latino students text and drive?  We do have that.  And we'll get that for you in a second. 

BRIAN LATIMER: All right.  And would you be able to correlate that number of driving deaths? 

HOWELL WECHSLER: I'm sorry, I didn't hear the last part of the question. 

BRIAN LATIMER: Would you be able to compare that to the number of driving -- of texting and driving?  Would you be able to compare that to the number of texting students and teenagers compared to other demographics?  

HOWELL WECHSLER: I'm sorry, we're just not hearing your question.  I can tell you that 30.9 percent of Hispanic high school students said that they had texted or e-mailed while driving a car or other vehicle in the past 30 days.  So that number was 30.9 percent of Hispanic students. 

BRIAN LATIMER: And do you know what percent of Hispanic students drink and drive? 

HOWELL WECHSLER: I can get that for you, too.  In one second.  The percentage of Hispanic students who said that they drove when drinking alcohol was 9.7 percent,  9.7 percent of Hispanic high school students. 

BRIAN LATIMER: Thank you very much. 

HOWELL WECHSLER: You're welcome. 

KAREN HUNTER: Thank you.  Next question, please. 

OPERATOR: I show no further questions at this time. 

KAREN HUNTER: All right.  Well, thank you all for joining us for the 2011 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey.  Again, the report is available online.  It should be live right now.  You can either access it through, or you can go to  If you have any additional questions or need statistics, feel free to call the CDC press office at 404-639-3286.  And there will be a transcript of this telebriefing online on the press room site later this afternoon as well as an audio file.  So that concludes today's telebriefing.  Thank you all for joining us. 

OPERATOR: That concludes today's conference.  Thank you for your participation.  You may disconnect at this time. 


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