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Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - The percentage of high school students who have ever carried a weapon, smoked or had sex has dropped slightly in the last two years, but too many students still engage in unhealthy behavior, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Judy Catchpole said Wednesday.

The state Department of Education released its annual Wyoming Youth Risk Behavior Survey results.

Since 1991, the first year Wyoming participated in the survey, the overall prevalence of risk behavior has decreased, Catchpole said.

"Through the actions of our families, schools, communities and the youth themselves, we have seen some positive improvement in health risk-taking behavior by our children," she said. "Nonetheless, too many of our middle and high school students engage in behaviors that put them at risk for serious health problems."

Catchpole said some risky behavior is increasing, according to the survey, including youths reporting being threatened or injured on school property and missing school because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to or from school.

The survey is administered every two years in Wyoming. In 2001, it was taken by 2,770 high school and 2,740 middle school students in grades 6-12 at 88 public schools.

The survey found that of middle school students, 70.5 percent never or rarely wore a helmet while riding a bicycle; 56.7 percent had been in a fight; 42.9 percent had ridden in a car driven by someone who had been drinking; 40.4 percent had tried cigarettes; 22.1 percent had seriously considered suicide; 12.7 percent had tried marijuana; and 9.1 percent attempted suicide.

Of high school students, 64.6 percent had tried cigarettes; 51.3 percent had drunk alcohol on one or more of the previous 30 days; 46.5 percent had had sexual intercourse; 41 percent had tried marijuana; 38.1 percent engaged in binge drinking; 20.2 percent drove after consuming alcohol; 20 percent rarely or never wore a seat belt; and 10.7 percent used methamphetamines.

"It is important for us to monitor these risk behaviors among our youth so that we can develop better prevention programs and policies," Catchpole said. "Knowing what unhealthy activities our children are doing today gives us a starting point for future prevention planning and program development."

She said schools cannot solve the problem alone, and that schools, parents, communities and governments must work together to reduce risky youth behavior.

Although different students were surveyed in 1999 and 2001, the largest percentage declines among high school students included those who had ever tried smoking (4.7 percent less) and those who wear seat belts when riding with someone else (4 percent).

High school categories on the increase included those who attempted suicide, used chewing tobacco or alcohol, stayed home because they felt unsafe, had been threatened with a weapon at school, and had been in a fight.

Among middle school students, 10.4 percent less reported trying cigarettes and 10.3 percent less said they had tried alcohol.

Percentages were also higher among middle schoolers who said they had never had sex, used marijuana or alcohol, attempted suicide, carried a weapon and always wore a seat belt.

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