Unhealthy Risk-Taking Behaviours Among Secondary School Students

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Background to the Study

Unhealthy risk-taking behaviours among young people have over the years been a major concern both to the government and the adult population. This issue has attracted a lot of attention so much so that programmes are being initiated both by governmental and non-governmental organization with a view to curbing this menace. The emergence of exploratory and risk-taking behaviours in adolescents is often described as a normal developmental phenomenon marked by the onset of major changes in biological, psychological, and social processes (Stanton, Spirito, Donaldson, & Boergers, 2003). Lynn (1997) noted that, since adolescents need to take risks as a normal part of growing up, parents should assist adolescents to find healthy opportunities to do so. Healthy risk-taking, is not only important in itself, but can help prevent unhealthy risk-taking behaviour. World Health Organization-WHO (1948) defined health as a ‘‘state of complete physical, mental, social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’’ (p.13). In others words, one can be free from disease or infirmity and yet be unhealthy. Formation of healthy lifestyle is an essential precondition for health and well-being for realization of a person’s full potentials. Hornby (2000) defined healthy as having good health and not likely to become ill. Healthy describes a person who is rarely ill or things that are good for one’s health.


Risk is a concept that denotes potential negative impact to an asset or some characteristics of value that may arise from present process or future event. Risk is often used synonymously with the probability of a known loss (Ilona, 2006). According to Proton (1997), healthy risk-taking behaviour is a positive tool in an adolescent’s life for discovering and consolidating his or her identity. While unhealthy risk-taking behaviour involves action or behaviour that could result into negative outcome, behaviour which the person performed may not consider risky, but that can have negative consequences. For example, a child playing with a gun may not consider this dangerous as he or she may have seen people on TV doing this or even an adult known to them, but clearly it is potentially dangerous (Ben-zur & Reshef-kfir, 2003). Reber (1995) defined risk as an action that jeopardizes something of value. The object that is threatened may be physical, social or culturally valued psychological entity such as self-esteem. For example, when an individual involves oneself in an action that results to unpleasant outcome, it is referred to as risk-taking.

Proto (1997) stated that risk-taking behaviours can be group into healthy and unhealthy.  Healthy risk-taking behaviours include traveling, making new friends, participating in sports, development of artistic skill, making good grade in school, constructive contrition to the community, participating in religious activities while unhealthy risk-taking behaviours include violence, cigarette smoking, reckless driving, alcoholism, or substance abuse, jumping from height, rebelliousness, unprotected sexual intercourse, fighting, carrying weapons with intent to harm, running into traffic, running away from home and eating disorders. Examples of eating disorders are anorexia, nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating. Anorexia nervosa is a complicated psychological illness, most common in female adolescents. There is minimal food intake leading to loss of weight and sometimes, death from starvation. Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder involving repeated episodes of uncontrolled consumption of large quantities of food in a short time while binge eating is (binge-purge syndrome) self- induced vomiting after meals (Roper, 1989). Inherent in all these activities is the possibility of failure.

Porto further maintained that all adolescent take risk as a normal part of growing up, and that risk-taking is the tool an adolescent uses to define and develop his or her identity. In all, healthy risk-taking behaviour is a valuable experience, but adolescents’ risk-taking only becomes negative when when the risks are dangerous to health and well-being. Eaton et al (2005) asserted that risk-taking whether healthy or unhealthy, is simply part of the adolescent’s struggle to test out an identity by providing self-definition and separation from others, including parents. The present study will focus on the following types of unhealthy risk-taking behaviours eating disorder behaviours, violent behaviours, unprotected sexual behaviour (activities), substance abuse behaviours and delinquent behaviours.

Nwachukwu (1992) defined behaviour as ‘‘the response of an organism to its environment’’ (p.10). This implies that environmental factors serve as stimuli to actions, and risk-taking behaviours cannot be exception. Ronald and Seymour (2007) defined behaviour as the action or actions of an object or organism usually in relation to the environment. They explained that behaviour can be conscious or unconscious, voluntary or involuntary. Human behviour (and that of other organisms and mechanisms) can be common, unusual, acceptable or unacceptable. Bebaviour, therefore is regarded unhealthy risk-taking behaviour when the outcome produces a negative consequence to the individual and the environment.

Adolescence is the developmental period of transition from childhood to early adulthood, entered approximately at 10 to 19 years of age (Santrock, 2001) He further explained that adolescence begins with rapid physical changes and dramatic gains in height and weight; changes in body contour; and the development of sexual characteristics such as enlargement of the breasts, development of pubic and facial hair and deepening of the voice.  At this point in development, the pursuits of independence and identity are prominent though it is more logical, abstract and idealistic. More and more time is spent outside of the family during this period.

Griffiths, (1999) stated that adolescence can be a specifically turbulent period as well as a dynamic period of one’s life. It has been identified as a period in which young people develop abstract thinking abilities, become aware of their sexuality, develop a clear sense of psychology, identity and increase their independence from parents. WHO (1997) described adolescence as a period of turmoil during which young people must learn new social roles, develop new relationship undergo significant physical and hormonal changes and make decision that will affect their future.  WHO further explained that adolescents naturally experience feelings of confusion, stress, self-doubt, peer pressure and the drive to succeed while simultaneously confronting issues about romance and sexuality and beginning to tackle ideas like the meaning of one’s individual life in a vast and seemly incomprehensive universe. Self concepts must and do change: adolescents test the boundaries, take risks and strive to develop unique identities while retaining strong family and social networks. It is a hazardous time of life, leading to considerable emotional and psychological stress that is exacerbated by a lack of appropriate coping strategies in solving their personal problems. Adolescence therefore is a period when adolescents are at higher risk of engaging in unhealthy risky behaviours.

Lynn (1997) further explained that adolescents often offer subtle clues about their negative risk- taking behaviours through what they say about behaviour of friends and family, including parents. She further opined that the term adolescent, refers to a young person who is developing into an adult. At this stage the adolescent’s thoughts is centered in the present regardless of any negative outcome of his actions that could lead to unhealthy risk-taking behaviours.


Byrnes, Miller, and Schafer, (1999), gender has been identified as having an association with unhealthy risk-taking behaviours. They further explained that gender difference varied with age and context. For example, risky driving was more likely among males, and increased with age, and generally males were more to take risks driving than females; there was an apparent lack of discernment among men and boys that is males took more risks even when it was clearly a bad idea. Females took fewer risks even in apparently safe situations, thus experienced less success; there were developmental increase in risk-taking and therefore of the gender gap; the increase in gender with age is due to: biological maturation; cognitive scope example future time perspective; self-perception of the social environment: parental and peer influence; personal values; risk perception and characteristics of the peer group. Pyszcznki (2002) made similar observations. Level of education has been indicated by Grunbaum et al., (2001). Similar association was reported by Weitzman, Guttmachers, Weinberg, and Kapadia, (2003). They stressed that students in school with low response rates resulting from high rates of absenteeism have different demographic characteristics and engage in more risk behaviours than students with low absenteeism and high response rates.  The above reports underscore the implication of these factors as variables for the present study.

Ogbadibo Local Government is one of the main land parts of Benue State surrounded by massive land favourable for cultivation.  It is a predominantly farming community. Some unhealthy related behaviours have been observed in the area. These behaviours include alcohol consumption; cigarette smoking, reckless riding of motorcycle, and other risky behaviours are being practised among adolescents. They behaviours may have negative consequences on the adolescents’ health and well-being. The Local Government has thirty-three government owned schools which consists of 11 senior secondary schools (Ministry of Education Area Education Office Otukpa-Ogbadibo LGA, 2008), and 22 junior secondary schools (Local Government Education Authority (UBE) Otukpo Ogbadiba LGA Benue State). However, more than  any other group, adolescents are prone to engage in risk-taking behaviours such as violent,  eating disorders, unprotected sexual, stealing, substance abuse, delinquent behaviour, reckless driving, weapon carrying with intent to harm, rebelliousness, and fighting. The situation in Ogbadibo LGA may not be different from the general picture presented here. Unhealthy adolescent risk-taking may appear to be ‘‘rebellion’’ an – angry gesture specifically directed at parents. However, risk-taking behaviour whether healthy or unhealthy, is simply part of a teen’s struggle to test out an identity by providing self-definition and separation from others, including parents.


Statement of the Problem

Risk-taking behaviours are serious public health problems world-wide. Young male aged 12 – 25 years are well recognized as having particularly high rates of injury morbidity and disability (both intentional and unintentional) when compared with the other age group that is young people compared to adult. Their higher rates of mortality, morbidity and disability are likely, in part, to result from their greater involvement in behaviours that have been  shown to increase the risk of injury, such as their consumption of alcohol and their greater perceived tendency to ‘‘take risk’’ compared with older individuals and with young women (Wellisch 2004).  Child Study Center (1998) stated that risk-taking behaviours are the main cause of morbidity and death in youth age 12 – 21. Risk behaviours are the choices, actions and events that threaten an adolescent’s health. There is increased likelihood that he or she will experience physical or mental disability or death through illness or injury. The greatest difference occurred in 1997, where the rate for males was 12.7 per 100,000 young people (12 – 17 years; 34 deaths) and the rate for females was 9.5 per 100,000 young people (12 – 17 years; 14 deaths). In contrast, the smallest difference was in 1999, where the rate for males was 7.8 per 100, 000 young people (12 – 17 years; 18 deaths) and the rate for females was 6.2 deaths per 100, 000 young people (12 – 17years; 16 deaths).   Injury is the leading cause of death for adolescents in Austria. This is of particular great concern as the leading cause of these injuries and death could be largely preventable by reducing risk-taking behaviour.  Most injuries are minor (such as cut and bruises) however; participants identified more serious injury consequences for example head injuries, high school drop out rates, early pregnancy, substance abuse and violence, making them more vulnerable to life threatening diseases and conditions (Buckley, 2006).

Unhealthy risk-taking behaviours has been observed by many authorities (Miller, 1989; Rolison and Scherman, 2002; Eaton et al., 2005; Buckley, 2006), as part of the growing up process of adolescents. Many of these studies on unhealthy risk-taking behaviours have been conducted in developed countries of the world.  However, the present study intends to answer the following questions: What are the unhealthy risk-taking behaviours among adolescents in Ogbadibo LGA of Benue State? or do adolescents indulge in unhealthy risk behaviours? What are the demographic factors that are associated with unhealthy risk-taking behaviours among adolescents?


Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the study is to identify unhealthy risk-taking behaviours among secondary school students in Ogbadibo LGA of Benue state. Specifically, the study intends to:

  1. identify  eating disorder behaviours
  2. identify violent behaviours ;
  3. identify  unprotected sexual behaviours ;
  4. identify substance abuse behaviours;
  5. identify delinquent behaviours;
  6. determine how gender is associated with risk-taking behavoiurs, and
  7. determine how level of education is associated with risk-taking behaviours among secondary school students in Ogbadibo LGA.

Research Questions

  1. What are the eating disorder behaviours among secondary school students in Ogbadibo LGA?
  2. What are the violent behaviours among secondary school students in Ogbadibo LGA?
  3. What are the unprotected sexual behaviours (activities) among secondary school students in Ogbadibo LGA?
  4. What are those substance abuse behaviours among secondary school students in Ogbadibo LGA?
  5. What are the delinquent behaviours among secondary school students in Ogbadibo LGA?
  6. How is gender associated with unhealthy risk-taking behaviours among secondary school students in Ogbadibo LGA?
  7. How is level of education associated with unhealthy risk-taking behaviours among secondary school students in Ogbadibo LGA?



The following null hypotheses each of which was tested at .05 level of significance are postulated.

  1. There is no statistically significant difference in unhealthy risk-taking behaviours of male and female secondary school students.
  2. There is no statistically significant difference in unhealthy risk-taking behaviours of senior and junior secondary school students.


Significance of the Study

The results of eating disorder behaviours have showed those behaviours that have been in existence over the years, which may have been affecting health of the students. The results would be useful to health educators and school in planning and implementing health education lessons in schools. It will also help them to organize community sensitization campaigns in the form of seminars to persuade them to desist from negative behaviours about eating foods.

The results regarding violent behaviours had showed those behaviours that student’s practise which do not promote their health and well-being and those that do. The results will be useful to health educators, school administrators and counsellors. The health educators will use the results to educate the segment of students affected by these negative practise and their parents to help them modify or change the behaviours that are negative and encourage positive ones.

The results of the study regarding the unprotected sexual behaviours may be useful to health education teachers, health workers and counselors. Health teachers will teach and re-enforce good practices. The counsellors will use the results to counsel the students on how to avoid unprotected sexual behaviours health education teacher will utilize the results to organize the health lessons for the students to help them adopt good sexual behaviours.

The study had generated data on substance abuse behaviours of the students. Counsellors will utilize the results to counsel the segment of students that are affected by undesirable behaviours. Health educators will use the results to organize teaching that will encourage positive behaviours to improve health and well-being of the students that practice the undesirable behaviours.

The study also found that delinquent behaviours adopted by students were negative. The results may be useful to school administrators and counselors. They can use the finding to organize seminars and workshops to give them correct information and organize other activities to engage the students during leisure time.

The results also found that more male than female students practised unhealthy risk-taking behaviours which will be useful to health educators. School administrators will also be better armed to conduct group discussions with the segment of the population that persistently practise negative behaviours in order to enhance positive change in behaviours. Health teachers may use the results to teach and correct the negative behaviours of the affected segment of the students to improve their health and well-being. The results will be useful to health educators and school administrators. The health educators will direct their teaching to both male and female students that are negatively affected by unhealthy risk-taking behaviours. School administrators will organize the teaching to the gender that is

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