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“Snapshot” of local youth behavioral risks presented at Health Summit

The results of a local survey conducted three years ago on the prevalence of cigarette smoking, alcohol and illicit drug use by students was shared by American Samoa with Samoa at last week’s 7th Bilateral Health Summit of the two Samoas held at the Gov. H. Rex Lee Auditorium and results have been described “as shocking” in the area of illicit drugs.

Commerce Department Chief statistician Meleisea Vai Filiga presented results on the survey, which were released in 2014 on the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). The survey was carried out in collaboration with the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention along with the local Education Department, Health Department and others.

Although the report was released two years ago, Meleisea told summit participants that the trend analysis provided in this report, is a useful tool for program developments as well as evaluations of policies and future directions for agencies.

Meleisea said his presentation provides a “snap shot” of the health conditions and indicators in American Samoa as of 2013, at the time the territory’s population was about 60,000 and the “number one cause of death... is heart disease.” Other data he presented shows teenage births at 137 — and these are females below the age of 20; and life expectancy for males was 71 years old and females 77.8 years.

Meleisea also highlighted some specific “profiles” — for example, youth alcohol drinking prevalence at 40%, which is lower than the US national level of 66%; and based on the survey one-third of the youth got their alcohol from someone who gave it to them. (Samoa News notes that this has been cited in cases that have surfaced in the court with adult defendants charged with giving minors alcohol.)

Additionally, about 27% of students have been bullied on school property and “it’s a big issue,” said Meleisea.

Other highlights: youth tobacco use prevalence at 19%, higher than the US national level at 16%; youth smoking on school property at 10% compared to 4% at the US level; students taking illicit drugs for the past 12 months — 30% of them were offered, sold or given by someone on school property — compared to 22% at the US level.

A handful of summit participants — both local and from Samoa — later told Samoa News that they were “very, very surprised” with the alcohol consumption rate for youth as well as the issue of illicit drugs on school property.

“More should be done to prevent people from selling or offering drugs to students on school property or anywhere else in the territory for that matter,” said one local participant who asked not be identified by name.

For “household and living arrangements”, which is very important when it comes to data, Meleisea said a lot of households have other relatives — about 28% of households — as well as non-relatives in Samoan households.

Additionally, the medium income for an American Samoa family is $23,800 compared to the US level of $50,000.

Tuumafua Maiava, special projects assistant director with the Department of Human and Social Service, explained the importance of data collection for American Samoa, which gets federal grants for its operations. She said the federal grantor has told the grantee that the projects “must be data driven, that it will help us to identify our needs and prioritize our needs so that we can allocate the resources, to help and save our people’s lives.”

As for Meleisea’s data presentation, Maiava pointed out that “although over the years we have done very well with the alcohol and tobacco, unfortunately that is starting to rise again” and that illicit drugs have been seen more and more — being offered to students on school grounds. “Our government has a lot of work to do,” she said, adding that data from Meleisea’s presentation is provided to participants of the health summit on hard copy.