One in five students vape, according to student health survey

Administrators, counsellors and committee members are mulling over the results of a survey that reveals student behaviours around substances, screen time and obesity.

Recently, many Canadian schools participated in an annual survey put out by the University of Waterloo about their mental and physical health. According to the university, the results of the survey should help schools to learn more about their students, and direct their efforts to implement and assess school policies that relate to student health.

While this is a long term study, the yearly results specific to each school are shared with that school, providing administrators with some potentially useful information.

Across Canada, 30% of students are obese. In the school I attend, that number was lower — just 9%. Despite the fact that the school rate was below average, the school Vice Principal described the results as concerning. “I think it’s more of a product of the modern lifestyle that has sugar drinks and slurpees,” he said. “As well as people are on their devices more so their not outside playing as much.”

Strikingly, while national guidelines recommend students limit recreational screen time to two hours or less a day, only 7% of the students surveyed used screens that little.

“I’m frustrated as a parent,” my vice principal said. “I’ve got two kids and they somehow manage to be on a screen way more than I want them to be, so its a problem.”

He also described the concerns of teachers: “The kids are less focussed because their phones are beeping and their checking their snapchats and messages and stuff like that.”

The survey doesn’t differentiate between alcohol and cannabis consumption, reporting that 23% of high schoolers use one or both. My vice principal takes this in stride. He thinks it’s predictable that teens will experiment with these substances.

“I think it’s developmentally quite predictable that teens are going to try alcohol,” he said. “Cannabis is obviously something that is more available than when I was in highschool. So you know, I guess it’s understandable that kids are trying, you just worry that when they’re experimenting they don’t end up in an unsafe place.”

Anxiety is reported by 41% of students nationally, and significantly lower in my school at 30%. My vice principal was surprised by the results, though he knows that anxiety is a concern than more and more people are identifying.

”I don’t know exactly why that is,” he said. “I think there’s more pressure on families and on kids. The pathways into careers isn’t as straightforward as it was in the past and so that puts tension in families and also makes it hard on kids and even when kids are trying to decide on which direction to go, which I think is contributing to the anxiety.”

The vice principal suggested that school districts may want to take this into consideration when hiring. “More than ever, we need more people within that mental health background who can support others, whether that’s counselors or more people like [our student safety worker], even more education and training for administrators and teachers.”

Mirroring e-cigarette use rates across the country, a staggering 20% of teen currently vape. “It’s too bad,” the vice principal said, “because there’s been a real drop in kids smoking since I was in high school, and that’s gone, but now there’s this upswing in e-cigarette and vapes which are perhaps as dangerous.”

A counselor at the same school summarized the survey in broad terms: “The whole purpose of the survey is to determine a direction and to set a health goal around what we are going to address, that to me is the whole purpose of this, looking at what we can target and what we can do to work with kids on, whether it’s anxiety or weather it’s vaping, whether its sleep related issues, whether its stress or improving the overall physical health.”

Since this was the first year, according to the school counsellor, that the school participated in the Compass survey, it is unclear yet whether school policies are having an influence in these areas over time.

The school has a committee that is looking into ways to improve overall school health, and is taking the survey into consideration.

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