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Building Innovation is a collection of stories by 90.5 fm WESA reporters about the Pittsburgh region focusing on efficient government operation, infrastructure and transportation, innovative practices, energy and environment and neighborhoods and community.

Allegheny County Teens Healthy Overall 'But Play A Lot Of Video Games'

Allegheny County teens, on the whole, look fairly healthy in comparison to teens around the nation, according to a survey released Wednesday by the Allegheny County Health Department.

Of the 1,600 teens surveyed, 96 percent said they have health insurance and 62 percent reported getting one hour or more of moderate or vigorous exercise every day. Other areas raised red flags for health officials.

“There were concerns around dating violence, (and) there were definitely concerns around watching and using video games on a regular basis in terms of being higher than the national sample,” said Karen Hacker, health department director.

The Healthy Allegheny Teen Survey found that 44 percent of teens in the sample play three hours or more of video games every day compared to 41 percent nationally.

Other key findings:

  • 17 percent of respondents in school reported being suspended
  • 22 percent have asthma, compared to 21 percent nationally
  • 51 percent did not get eight or more hours of sleep on school nights, compared to 68 percent nationally
  • 47 percent reported eating daily vegetables
  • 62 percent report one hour of moderate or vigorous exercise per day
  • 20 percent had tried electronic or vapor cigarettes
  • 23 percent had tried cigarettes, compared to 41 percent nationally
  • 11 percent experienced dating violence, compared to 10 percent nationally
  • 35 percent had sexual intercourse, compared to 47 percent nationally
  • 13 percent said someone close to them was murdered
  • 27 percent had low social supports
  • 38 percent text while driving, compared to 41 percent nationally
  • 35 percent reported self-harm

The phone survey was conducted over a 10-month period from February to November 2014. More than 1,600 participants, 14-19 years of age, provided information to help address a lack of population-based data on local youth health behaviors. Hacker said it was modeled after the national Risk Behavior Survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It’s very important for us to understand what we’re dealing with as we develop programs, as we determine where to target those programs, who our appropriate collaborators ought to be to get to those types of things,” Hacker said.

The survey is a small slice of the youth in Allegheny County, she said, but the snapshot gives officials a jumping off point for further evaluation.

“We really need to do this again, or we need to get our schools to conduct these surveys within the schools, because if we want to know if we’re making a dent, if we’re actually having an impact on any of these behaviors, we need to follow them over time,” she said.

Ideally, Hacker said every school would survey its students and share the data with the health department, but most schools lack the time and resources, she said.

Deanna fell in love with public radio in 2001, when she landed her first job at an NPR station: KRWG-FM in Las Cruces, NM, where she also attended college. After graduating with a degree in journalism and mass communications, she spent a summer in Washington, D.C. as an intern at NPR's Morning Edition. Following that, she was a reporter/All Things Considered Host at WXXI in Rochester, NY. Before coming to Pittsburgh, Deanna was the local All Things Considered host for KUNC in northern Colorado. In her spare time, Deanna enjoys watching movies and TV shows on DVD (the Golden Girls and Little House on the Prairie are among her favorites), bicycling, yard work, and reading.