Fewer teens South of the Fraser are drinking or taking drugs than five years ago, according to a comprehensive new study that paints a generally improved portrait of adolescent health in B.C.
The McCreary Centre Society surveyed 30,000 B.C. students in grades 7 to 12 in 2013 and released its detailed report Tuesday on the Fraser South region, which includes Delta, Surrey and Langley school districts.
On substance use, the survey found fewer youth in Fraser South had ever tried alcohol (37 per cent), marijuana (21 per cent) or tobacco (16 per cent) compared to 2008, when those rates were 48 per cent, 26 per cent and 23 per cent, respectively.
In 2008, 74 per cent of students surveyed had their first drink of alcohol before turning 15, but that dropped to 61 per cent in 2013. Fewer also reported binge drinking.
The survey found 14 per cent of students have had sex (other than oral sex), down from 18 per cent in 2008 and below the provincial average of 19 per cent.
Among youth who have had sex, most did so for the first time at age 15 or 16.
Fraser South students were more likely to feel safe at school and less likely to feel bullied, the report says.
But the findings were more troubling on issues related to mental health.
Eight per cent of girls reported attempting suicide, up from six per cent in 2008.
And one in 10 students did not seek mental health help they felt they needed, usually because they didn’t want their parents to know.
“It’s great to see so many positives in terms of risky behaviours such as binge drinking,” said McCreary executive director Annie Smith. “But as with the rest of the province, girls’ mental health results were particularly concerning.”
Eleven per cent of students had been physically abused and eight per cent had been sexually abused at some point, rates that were both down from 2008.
Four per cent of Fraser South girls were classified as obese, up from two per cent in 2008, while the rate of obese boys remained eight per cent.
Lack of sleep was also flagged as a chronic issue, with 86 per cent of girls and 79 per cent of boys either online, using their cellphones or doing homework past the time they’re expected to be asleep.
In Fraser South, five per cent of boys and two per cent of girls reported carrying a weapon like a knife or bat to school in the previous month, below the B.C. rate.
A report on Fraser East communities including Abbotsford and Chilliwack was also released for the first time last month.
It has no comparable figures from 2008 because 2013 was the first time the Abbotsford School District participated.
But many of the trends were the same.
Among the Fraser East findings:
– 24 per cent of girls reported being cyberbullied in the past year, more than the B.C. rate of 19 per cent.
– 20 per cent of girls considered suicide – more than the provincial average of 17 per cent – and 11 per cent had actually attempted.