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Health Department Releases Summary Results of 2017 Cambridge Middle Grades Health Survey

February 22, 2018

View Full Summary Report (PDF) 
The Cambridge Public Health Department has released summary results from the 2017 Cambridge Middle Grades Health Survey, a survey given every other year to assess the health behaviors of students in grades 6–8 in the Cambridge Public Schools.
The Middle Grades Health Survey is administered by the health department and the Cambridge Public Schools in collaboration with the city’s Department of Human Service Programs and Social Science Research and Evaluation, Inc.
The 2017 Middle Grades Health Survey was given to all students in attendance on March 30, 2017, at the five public upper schools in Cambridge: Amigos School, Cambridge Street Upper School, Putnam Avenue Upper School, Rindge Avenue Upper School, and Vassal Lane Upper School.

More than 1,000 students voluntarily responded to questions about demographics; substance use; violence and safety; mental health; sexual health; weight perception; physical activity and nutrition; and other health-related habits and activities.
“The Middle Grades Health Survey provides valuable information on health behaviors and concerns of Cambridge upper school students,” said Claude Jacob, the city’s Chief Public Health Officer and director of the Cambridge Public Health Department. “In addition to helping us understand trends over time, we share these data with city and community partners to inform prevention programs and develop summaries of the results to share with families,” Jacob added.
Key Highlights and Trends

 Substance Use
  • Alcohol is the most commonly used substance among upper school students. However, despite a slight increase in 2017 compared to 2015, students reporting current use of alcohol is much lower today than it was 10 years ago (4% in 2017 vs. 10% in 2007).
  • Students reporting smoking cigarettes (0.3%) is at its lowest level since the survey began in 1997, as is current marijuana use (1%).
  • Fewer upper school students reported living with a smoker (17%) since the survey began.
  • Upper school students who reported talking to their parents or guardians about substance use (34%) reached its lowest level since the question was first introduced in 1997. Fewer students perceived frequent alcohol (46%) or marijuana (76%) use as being harmful compared to previous years.

Violence & Safety

  • Most violence-related experiences have decreased over time, but gender-based disparities persist.
  • Girls are more likely than boys to experience sexual violence: 12% of girls reported receiving rude sexual comments in school compared to 7% of boys, and 9% of girls reported being touched in a sexual way against their will at school compared to 5% of boys.
  • Boys are more likely than girls to report experiencing physical violence: 14% of boys reported being in a physical fight over the past year compared to 2% of girls.
 Mental Health
  • The most common topics that upper school students reported worrying about were school failure or poor grades (28%), MCAS/PARCC (26%), weight problems (19%), arguing at home (15%), social status (14%), family having enough money (10%), and how others perceived them on social media (10%).
  • Girls were more likely than boys to report symptoms of anxiety (23% vs. 14%) and depression (23% vs. 11%).
  • Girls were more likely than boys to report self-harm (12% vs. 4%), suicidal thoughts (12% vs. 6%), or suicide attempts (3% vs. 0.2%).

Sexual Health

  • Continuing a downward trend since 2005, 3% of upper school students reported ever having sex.
 Physical Activity and Nutrition
  • Fewer students reported engaging in 60+ minutes of daily physical activity at least five days a week (28% in 2017 vs. 34% in 2015). 
  • Students reporting eating fruit (86%) and raw vegetables (62%) on a daily basis were at their highest levels since the questions were introduced in 2003.
  • Compared to 2015, students were less likely to drink regular soda on a daily basis (30% in 2017 vs. 33% in 2015), but more likely to drink other sweetened beverages, such as iced tea and sports beverages (45% in 2017 vs. 40% in 2015). The same proportion of students (53%) reported daily consumption of sugary drinks (either sweetened beverages or regular soda) in both years.
  • The vast majority of students (94%) reported drinking water on a daily basis in 2017.  Compared to 2015, a higher proportion of students drank tap water daily (73% in 2017 vs. 70% in 2015), and a smaller proportion of students drank unflavored bottled water (60% in 2017 vs. 66% in 2015).
“The Middle Grades Health Survey provides invaluable insight into the current experiences of our students,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kenneth Salim. “Comprehensive health education is a core requirement in all of our upper schools because early adolescence is a crucial time for establishing healthy habits and interrupting behaviors that put students at risk. While it is heartening to see positive trends in almost all areas, the survey results point to the importance of educating the 'whole child' in order to promote intellectual, physical, and emotional growth among our students.”

Cambridge administers a similar health survey to high school students every other year to better understand how health-related behaviors change as youth transition from upper school to high school.

The Summary of Results from the 2016-2017 Cambridge Middle Grades Health Survey can be accessed at: http://www.cambridgepublichealth.org/publications/Cambridge-Middle-Grades-Health-Survey-2017-Executive-Summary.pdf.
Executive summaries for past high school and middle grades health surveys can be found at the bottom of CPHD’s Health Data & Reports page: http://cambridgepublichealth.org/services/health-data-reports/index.php.


Suzy Feinberg, MPH
Public Information Officer

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