The importance of using seat belts has sunk in for Dakota County youths: 83 percent of ninth-graders and 93 percent of 11th-graders say they always buckle up while driving, according to the 2013 Minnesota Student Survey.

But 71 percent of 11th-graders said they make and receive phone calls while driving and 43 percent said they send text messages and e-mails while at the wheel.

Pregnancy prevention is not as strong as it should be, either. Only 68 percent of 11th-graders and 62 percent of ninth-graders reported using a condom when they last had sexual intercourse — although only a fraction of either group said they've ever had sex.

These are key findings from Dakota County data, drawn from a survey of students that has been taken across the state every three years since 1989. Until last year, the students surveyed were in grades six, nine and 12; in 2013, the grades were changed to five, eight, nine and 11.

The confidential, anonymous and voluntary questionnaire is administered by the state health and education departments as a way to monitor trends in health behaviors.Last year nine school districts in Dakota County participated in the survey. About 17,800 students, or 81 percent of the students enrolled in the four grades, took part.

The findings show reduced use of tobacco and alcohol from past years and increased use of seat belts.Physical activity and healthy eating is up slightly but a high percentage of students still do not meet the recommended amount of physical activity or fruit and vegetable consumptions, according to a summary by the county's division of public health.

For a look at a sampling of the findings, see the accompanying table.An exhaustive look at the results, with comparison figures from past years, is online at