Purpose: To determine: (1) the frequency of risky behaviors (alcohol and other drug use, smoking cigarettes, smokeless tobacco use, and unprotected intercourse); (2) the perception of general risks and diabetes-related risks from risky behaviors; (3) if perception of risk is related to engaging in risky behaviors; and (4) if perception of general risks and diabetes-related risks are influenced by age, gender, or race in adolescents with insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM). Decreasing risky behaviors in youth with IDDM is important because of their increased vulnerability to specific disease related physiologic and pathologic changes.
Methods: A descriptive, cross-sectional design was used. Data on risky behavior and perception of risk were obtained by self-report during a regularly scheduled clinic visit. One hundred and fifty-five adolescents between ages of 10-20 years participated. Correlational and student's t-test analyses were used to test relationships and group differences (age, race, gender).
Results: Thirty-nine percent of the sample reported alcohol use, 34% reported smoking cigarettes, 8% reported smokeless tobacco use, 10% reported drug use, and 29% reported unprotected intercourse. Perception of risk to peers from these behaviors was significantly higher (t = 8.1, df 153; p < .001) than risk to self. Females reported significantly lower (t = 3.08, df 52; p < .002) risk to self than males. There was no difference in perception of risk between youth who reported participating in risky behaviors (N = 38%) and those who did not (62%). Not surprisingly, the frequency of risky behavior increased with age (F = 15.46; p < .001).
Conclusions: Compared to community samples of middle school children, our sample had lower rates for most risky behaviors. As with community samples, the physical risks were known and perceived to be higher for peers than self. Perception of risk was not related to self-reports of risky behaviors. The lower rate of risky behaviors might reflect the success of educational efforts directed toward diabetes management or may be due to later initiation of behaviors, especially if personal social development is delayed. Additional research is indicated in order to understand the timing and trajectory of risky behavior and whether or not perception of risk deters youth with IDDM from engaging in risky behavior.