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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A descriptive study of youth risk behavior in urban and rural secondary school students in El Salvador

Andrew E Springer1*, BJ Selwyn2 and Steven H Kelder1

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Health for Health Promotion and Prevention Research, University of Texas School of Public Health, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Houston, Texas, USA

2 Division of Management, Policy and Community Health,, University of Texas School of Public Health, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Houston, Texas, USA

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BMC International Health and Human Rights 2006, 6:3  doi:10.1186/1472-698X-6-3

Published: 11 April 2006

Abstract

Background

Adolescence is an important stage of life for establishing healthy behaviors, attitudes, and lifestyles that contribute to current and future health. Health risk behavior is one indicator of health of young people that may serve both as a measure of health over time as well as a target for health policies and programs. This study examined the prevalence and distribution of youth health risk behaviors from five risk behavior domains–aggression, victimization, depression and suicidal ideation, substance use, and sexual behaviors–among public secondary school students in central El Salvador.

Methods

We employed a multi-stage sampling design in which school districts, schools, and classrooms were randomly selected. Data were collected using a self-administered questionnaire based on the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Sixteen schools and 982 students aged 12–20 years participated in the study.

Results

Health risk behaviors with highest prevalence rates included: engagement in physical fight (32.1%); threatened/injured with a weapon (19.9%); feelings of sadness/hopelessness (32.2%); current cigarette use (13.6%); and no condom use at last sexual intercourse (69.1%). Urban and male students reported statistically significant higher prevalence of most youth risk behaviors; female students reported statistically significant higher prevalence of feelings of sadness/hopelessness (35.6%), suicidal ideation (17.9%) and, among the sexually experienced, forced sexual intercourse (20.6%).

Conclusion

A high percentage of Salvadoran adolescents in this sample engaged in health risk behaviors, warranting enhanced adolescent health promotion strategies. Future health promotion efforts should target: the young age of sexual intercourse as well as low condom use among students, the higher prevalence of risk behaviors among urban students, and the important gender differences in risk behaviors, including the higher prevalence of reported feelings of sadness, suicidal ideation and forced sexual intercourse among females and higher sexual intercourse and substance use among males. Relevance of findings within the Salvadoran and the cross-national context and implications for health promotion efforts are discussed.