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Call for action, celebration

LIHUE — Although students are improving scholastically in many areas and teenage drug and alcohol abuse continues to decline, a number of mental and physical health concerns plague Kauai’s youth, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Kauai Planning &Action Alliance.

The Kauai Youth Report, “a snapshot of Kauai’s young people from birth to workforce entry,” is issued every two years by the KPAA, an organization composed of nonprofit groups, business associations and government agencies. This year’s edition, published Tuesday, revealed a mix of positive and negative trends.

“There is good news to report,” KPAA President Marion Paul said, citing a number of positive academic trends, including improved third-grade language arts proficiency, an on-time high school graduation rate that exceeds both state and national averages and a positive trend in college enrollment numbers.

She also highlighted Early College, a program that allows high school students to take college classes on their high school campus. The KPAA report called the initiative “an unbridled success.” Enrollment in the program has increased by nearly 400 percent since it began in 2015.

“However,” Paul continued, “there are areas of concern.”

One in every 11 high school students in Kauai attempted suicide last year, according to the KPAA’s report. That rate is slightly lower than the rest of the state but well above the 7.4 percent national average.

“When 9 percent of our high school students attempt suicide every year, we know our community needs to take immediate action to find out the underlying causes and to provide the support and opportunities that they need to thrive,” the report says.

More than one in four students in grades 9-12 said they felt “sad and worthless” for at least two weeks at a time in 2017. While that number is down since 2015 and lower than both state and national averages, according to the report, “this rate is of concern.”

In addition to mental health issues, Kauai’s youth are struggling with physical health challenges.

According to the report, less than half of all young people get the recommended amount of daily physical activity. The Centers for Disease Control recommends children and adolescents get one hour of physical activity every day, but the KPAA found that only 43.7 percent of high school and middle school students in Kauai meet that recommendation.

“Over half of Kauai’s youth are at increased risk of chronic diseases because they do not get enough physical activity,” the report states, adding that the students “could benefit from increased physical activity in school and in after-school activities.”

This trend is reflected in the data collected on body weight, which revealed nearly a third of all Kauai youth are either overweight or obese.

Although a greater percentage of young people on the island get the recommended amount of exercise compared to the statewide average, the report found that Kauai’s youth “are more likely to be of unhealthy weight than children and adolescents elsewhere in the state and in the country.”

One of the new additions to this year’s report was the tracking of “screen time,” which is the amount of time spent watching television, playing video games, texting, or other similar activities.

The proportion of students who spend greater than five hours each weekday on their screens has been decreasing over the past five years and is less than the rates observed statewide.

But the report cautions that excess screen time often takes time away from activities that are critical for health, like social relationships, physical activity and adequate sleep and encourages youth to trade excess screen time for “lean time.”

The KPAA’s report includes data on the sexual activity of high school and middle school students as well. One third of Kauai high school students have sex, a number higher than the statewide average but lower than the nation as a whole. In middle school, about one in 14 Kauai students have had sex, the report said.

The report can be downloaded at

bit.ly/2b4zLIZ 

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Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cloehrer@thegardenisland.com.

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