Washington, D.C. – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) first-ever nationwide data on adolescent well-being during the Covid-19 pandemic shows dramatic increases in risk factors for STDs. NCSD views this as an urgent call-to-action to prioritize healthcare and support systems for adolescents.
The Adolescent Behavioral Experiences Study (ABES) is the first nationwide data available on the experiences of high school students during the first year of the pandemic. The data shows a convergence of disturbing trends. Mental health, a strong determinant of sexual health outcomes, is worsening. So is school connectedness, which evidence shows protects students from negative mental and sexual health outcomes. Young people ages 15-24 currently account for nearly half of the nation’s reportable STDs, and we cannot end the epidemic of STDs while sacrificing adolescents’ broader health and well-being.
“We have an urgent need right now to surround adolescents with the supportive services they need to be their best,” said Christy Altidor, director of adolescent health policy at NCSD. “This new information shows just how badly we let students down by not prioritizing youth well-being in our pandemic response, and that the consequences of not investing in adolescents are dramatic and dire.”
Among the data related to students’ immediate STD risk, only 4.6 percent of students say they had been tested for STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea in the first year of the pandemic, though 18.8 percent had been sexually active in the months before the survey was conducted. The data also paints a disturbing picture of students’ mental health and experiences with bullying and racism. More than a third of students reported worsening mental health and lesbian, gay, and bisexual students and students of color showed significantly worse outcomes than their peers.
“We are particularly concerned about these numbers in the context of efforts to target certain students, like Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill or attacks on training to help schools support students of color,” adds Altidor. “This is a time when we need to go all-in on supporting student mental health and well-being. Instead, we see adults causing active harm.”
NCSD partners with the CDC to support state education departments in their efforts to support adolescent health. We know we cannot achieve a nation free of STDs if we don’t include solutions tailored to young people. This data highlights the ongoing threats to our most vulnerable adolescents.
“We can’t continue to not prioritize adolescent health and school health,” notes Stephanie Arnold Pang, senior director of policy and government relations at NCSD. “Right now, we need an increase in the CDC’s budget for the Division of Adolescent and School Health to $100 million. The flat funding in the current 2023 budget proposal isn’t adequate to get student health back on track.”
NCSD strongly encourages the CDC to increase funding for school health and invest in school health to repair the interconnected mental and sexual health consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.