Youth Survey reveals significant disparities for youth of color and LGBT youth
The 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey shows that some trends among youth in the state–including the prevalence of obesity and the use of tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana–remain largely unchanged since 2015. However, the report, released last week, also reveals stark differences in the health and well-being of students of color, specifically among American Indian and Pacific Islander youth, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people.
Food insecurity was one of several areas where racial and ethnic disparities were seen. According to the results, 14 percent of all youth reported that they went hungry because there wasn’t food at home; Pacific Islander and American Indian students were most likely to experience food insecurity, with 34 percent and 30 percent reporting going hungry, respectively, compared to 12 percent of white students. While many factors contribute to food insecurity, major factors include family income, as well as the lack of resources available in a young person’s community due to past and current policies and practices based on race and ethnicity.
Substance use was another area in which large disparities among youth were observed. Pacific Islander youth demonstrated the highest e-cigarette and alcohol use of all racial and ethnic groups, and 25 percent of young people in this group reported misusing prescription pain medication, a rate twice as high as the state average. When compared to their cisgender or heterosexual peers, lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender youth also reported higher use of e-cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana. Explanations for these could include psychological distress due to trauma and perceived family support, as well as the prevalence of alcohol and tobacco retail outlets in communities which have historically been deprived of investments.
The survey found that 7 percent of all youth in Colorado attempted suicide in the past 12 months, with American Indian youth reporting the highest rate of attempted suicide–which was close to double the state average. LGBT youth were also twice as likely to be bullied online and more likely to have attempted suicide compared to their peers. These groups were also much more likely to report experiencing symptoms of depression.
Every young person in Colorado deserves to have supportive adults, safe neighborhoods, high quality schools, inclusive community resources, and culturally responsive physical and mental health providers as well as healthy foods. We need to remove barriers to these resources, especially for those who face the most obstacles due to their race, ethnicity, gender or sexual identity.