Hundreds of Georgia high school students answered questions about risky behavior in a 2011 CDC-sponsored survey. They answered questions on carrying a weapon, wearing...

Hundreds of Georgia high school students answered questions about risky behavior in a 2011 CDC-sponsored survey.

They answered questions on carrying a weapon, wearing a seat belt, being bullied and using tobacco. They replied to queries on having symptoms of depression, on contemplating suicide, drinking alcohol, using illegal drugs, and whether they have been taught about HIV and AIDS.

But the Georgia students were not asked about their sexual behavior.

Georgia is one of several states that delete sex questions from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Questions such as: Have you ever had sexual intercourse? The last time you had intercourse, did you or your partner use a condom?

States control which questions will be asked in their surveys.

Georgia has deleted sex questions for years. Other states removing those questions last year included Louisiana, Maryland, Utah and Virginia. A few states asked some sex questions but not others.

Data from the states’ Youth Risk Behavior Surveys and a separate, nationwide CDC survey are used to monitor teenage behavior that can lead to violence, unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and unhealthy diets. Parental permission was obtained for students to participate in the survey and student participation was voluntary, and responses were anonymous, the CDC said.

Laura Kann in CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health said the CDC encourages all states conducting a Youth Risk Behavior Survey to include all the core questions — including those on sexual behavior — so that they may better understand the impact of their efforts to reduce HIV infection, other STDs, and teen pregnancy.

These are significant problems among youths nationwide, but particularly in the South, Kann said.

According to the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, Georgia has the 13th highest teen pregnancy rate in the country.

“Sexual risk behavior in young people is just as important as other risk behaviors in the survey such as smoking, alcohol and drug use, and obesity, especially when we have such a dismal sexual health profile among the state’s young people,’’ said Vikki Millender-Morrow, president of G-CAPP.

“Georgia still has one of the highest teen pregnancy and birth rates in the country, and has extremely high rates of STDs for teen girls between 15 and 19 years old, and teen pregnancy is the No. 1 reason girls drop out of school.’’

Without this data, Millender-Morrow said, it’s difficult for Georgia to track the sexual risks that young people are taking and develop appropriate health education policies and programs.

The state Department of Public Health said Monday that it has taken over management of the survey, but that the agency works with the Department of Education to determine which questions are included in the study.

“DOE has the final say as to which questions are in the study,’’ said Suleima Salgado,a Public Health spokeswoman.

Matt Cardoza, a DOE spokesman, said Monday that many Georgia school systems did not participate in the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey because the survey contained questions related to sexual activity.

“As a result, the CDC had trouble getting weighted data from Georgia school systems,’’ Cardoza said. “To improve the participation rate in Georgia, the sex questions were removed and the Georgia survey was renamed Georgia Student Health Survey.”

The agency has its own census survey with school-level data, Cardoza said, but he added that survey doesn’t include sex-related questions either.

Florida officials told GHN last year that the state uses the sexual risk questions to develop health education policies, plan programs, help with grant writing and inform the public on youth sexual risk behaviors.

“We also know that academic achievement and success is strongly linked to student health,’’ Tom Butler, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Education, told GHN. “Research shows that students who engage in sexual risk behaviors have lower grades, lower test scores, poorer school attendance, and their ability to pay attention in class is lower compared to other students.’’

The 2011 national survey showed dramatic improvements during the past 20 years in motor vehicle safety among U.S. youth, including a rise in seat belt use and a drop in driving while impaired. But it also found that nationwide, one of three students had texted or emailed while driving a car or other vehicle on at least one day during the 30 days before the survey.

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Andy Miller

Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News

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