Utah teens: Don’t drink, don’t smoke — don’t do screens?
Survey • Fewer of the state’s teens engage in those activities than anywhere else in the nation.

By Danielle Manley

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: June 13, 2014 10:21PM
Updated: June 13, 2014 10:30PM
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AP Photo | An attendee plays the "Bayonetta 2" video game on the Wii U at the Nintendo booth at the Electronic Entertainment Expo on June 12 in Loa Angeles. One-quarter of Utah teens say they spend three hours or more on recreational videogames a day — the lowest state precentage in the country.

The bell rings, lockers slam and it’s the end of a school day for Utah teens. Cue an afternoon session of TV and video games, right?

Maybe not.

A new survey says the state’s teens are staring at screens less than kids anywhere else in the country.

One-quarter of Utah students in grades 9 through 12 say they spend three or more hours a day playing video games that aren’t related to school.

Nationally, that number rose to 41 percent — one of the largest jumps seen in the 2013 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2011, 31 percent of American teens said they were spending three or more recreational hours a day on computers and smartphones.

Utah teens also ranked the lowest nationally for the time they spend watching television, with 14.9 percent saying they see three or more hours a day. Nationally, the number of teens viewing that much TV has stalled at around 32 percent since 2011.

Utah also ranked the lowest for both types of screens in 2011.

Mississippi ranked highest in both categories this year, with 46.2 percent of its teens playing video games and 39.5 percent watching TV for three or more hours daily.

Health experts advise that teens get no more than two hours of recreational screen time a day, and that includes all screens — including Xboxes, smartphones and televisions.

The results come from a study of 13,000 U.S. high school students — including 2,195 in Utah — last spring. The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance survey asks teens about unintentional injuries and violence, tobacco use, alcohol and other drugs, sexual activities, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity.

The 2013 results shows American teens are smoking less, drinking less and fighting less. Most forms of drug use, weapons use and risky sex have been going down since the government started doing the survey every two years in 1991. Teens are wearing bicycle helmets and seat belts more — but they’re texting behind the wheel.

“Overall, young people have more healthy behaviors than they did 20 years ago,” said Stephanie Zaza, who oversees the study at the CDC.

Utah did not ask its students 12 of the 15 questions related to sexual behaviors, declining to survey teens on frequency of sex, number of sexual partners, condom use and other methods of birth control.

But other survey results from Utah teens show:

• They rank lowest in the nation for teens currently using tobacco, at 4.4 percent, and currently frequently using tobacco, at 1.3 percent, compared to the national averages: 13.8 percent and 4.6 percent. The survey did not ask about electronic cigarettes, which have exploded in popularity in the past few years.

• The state also has the lowest percentage of teenagers currently drinking alcohol, at 11 percent, compared to the rest of the country, 32.7 percent.

• Utah teenagers text or email while driving only slightly less than the national average: 40.5 percent compared to 43.3 percent.

• The state’s girls are slightly more likely to have “seriously considered attempting suicide” at 17.4 percent, compared to boys at 13.5 percent. Nationally, the percentage of teens who attempted suicide in the previous year held steady at about 8 percent.

• Utah girls are also more likely to plan a suicide, at 14.3 percent, compared to boys at 11.3 percent.

• Fifteen percent of female teens in Utah experience sexual violence, significantly higher than males, at 6.4 percent.

• About 12 percent of boys were bullied electronically, compared to 22.2 percent of girls. The national average is 15.4 percent.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.