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‘This is happening in our community’

Krystle Wagner • May 2, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Residents and community leaders are gaining an insight into the county’s youth.

On Tuesday morning, officials presented the results from the 2017 Ottawa County Youth Assessment Survey. While positive gains have been made in teens who reported using substances, mental health and suicidal behavior continue trending in the wrong direction, according to the survey results.

Beginning in 2005, the survey has been administered every two years to students in grades eight, 10 and 12. A little more than 4,300 students from 11 school systems took the survey last fall.

Marcia Mansaray, epidemiologist for the Ottawa County Department of Public Health, noted that although not every student in the county took the survey, the overall results have a plus or minus of 1.5 percent margin of error. Overall, 40 percent of eighth-graders, 30 percent of sophomores and 30 percent of seniors answered the survey.

Mansaray said the responses were weighted to be proportionate. Responses that would indicate students didn’t take the survey seriously were weeded out.

Several of the survey’s core questions are from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Additional questions are issues the community wants to hear about and trends that have emerged.

Questions pertained to bullying, safety and violence, depression and suicide, alcohol, tobacco and drug use, family and community experiences, sexting and sexual behaviors, body image, nutrition, and physical activity.

At Tuesday’s presentation, Mansaray reminded everyone that the results represent children, students in classes and family members.

“These are our kids, and what they’re saying is really, really important,” she said.

What’s changed?

Three positive changes noted in the 2017 survey are that one-third fewer teens are engaging in sexual activity, substance use is decreasing and more teens are involved in the community, Mansary said.

Three negative results are depression and suicidal behaviors, perceived risk of substance use, and inadequate consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Trafficking was a new topic in the survey, and teens in all three grades reported being trafficked, Mansary said. 

In the past year, 1 percent of students reported having been given money, shelter, food or something of value in exchange for sex; and 1.5 percent reported having been forced to work or do something illegal while someone else got money or something of value for their work. An estimated 500 teens in Ottawa County have been trafficked for work or sex.

“This is happening in our community,” Mansaray said.

Mental health and suicidal behaviors are trending in the wrong direction.

Teens reporting they had stopped doing activities because they felt hopeless or sad almost every day for two weeks or more increased to 28.9 percent, which is up from 19.1 percent in 2007. Also on the rise are the number of students who seriously thought about suicide (19.4 percent), made a plan (13.6 percent) and attempted suicide (8 percent).

Mansaray said that girls are two times as likely to feel depressed and think or plan to take their own life.

About 85 percent of students who took the survey also answered optional questions about sexual health. Overall, about 20.9 percent of teens reported having sexual intercourse. Of those, 40 percent used a condom the last time they had sex.

Students who reported using over-the-counter drugs, inhalants and cigarettes declined from 2015.

Although the number of students who reported drinking alcohol in the past 30 days rose from 2015 to 2017, the overall use is down from 29 percent in 2007 to 17 percent last year.

Students who reported vaping rose from 14 percent in 2015 to 20 percent in 2017. About 49 percent of students also noted they perceived little risk in vaping.

Nine in 10 teens reported their parents know who they are with and where they are, having clear family rules, parents would want them to call if they’re out late, and parents would know whether or not they came home on time.

About 6 percent of teens didn’t participate in a community activity — whether it was a sport, volunteering, job or group.

What’s next?

School systems and community foundations will receive reports for their specific areas.

While there isn’t an organized community effort to address survey results, Mansaray said organizations plan to use the information for strategic planning, and community foundations use the information for grant-making.

Some of the results will also fit into the strategies currently being developed in the Community Health Improvement Plan to address needs outlined in the 2017 Ottawa County Community Health Needs Assessment

The assessment was conducted by Arbor Circle, Greater Ottawa County United Way, Lakeshore Regional Entity, Ottawa Area Intermediate School District and Ottawa County Department of Public Health. Funding for the assessment was provided by Allendale Community Foundation, Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area, Coopersville Area Community Foundation, Grand Haven Area Community Foundation, Ottawa County and the Ottawa Substance Abuse Prevention.

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