Using the Youth Risk Behavior Survey to Compare Risk Behaviors of Texas High School and College Students

By Wiley, David C.; James, Gay et al. | Journal of School Health, February 1997 | Go to article overview

Using the Youth Risk Behavior Survey to Compare Risk Behaviors of Texas High School and College Students


Wiley, David C., James, Gay, Furney, Steven, Jordan-Belver, Carole, Journal of School Health


Risk behaviors by adolescents can produce a profound effect on their health status as adults, particularly when the behaviors begin in early adolescence. Health-related behaviors initiated in high school often continue during college years. Of particular concern are rates of sexual activity and use of alcohol and tobacco.

Studies verify that most college students are sexually experienced. Cline et al[1] reported that 85.2% of their survey sample were sexually experienced, while a 1989 Gallup Poll found 75% were sexually experienced, according to a May 29, 1989 article in the Gainesvile Sun. In addition, Cochran[2] reported that 9% of males indicated having had three or more sexual partners in the previous six months and another 6% averaged more than two partners a year. Baldwin and Baldwin's study[3] revealed that 19% of respondents admitted having sex within the past three months with a stranger or a casual acquaintance. Darling and Davidson[4] found that the "lifetime" average of sexual partners among college students was five for males and four for females.

The 1991 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) found nationally that 54% of high school students had experienced sexual intercourse during their lifetime and 19% had sexual intercourse with four or more partners. Male students (23%) were significantly more likely than female students (14%) to have had sexual intercourse with four or more partners.[5] A survey of 2,307 ninth- and 11th-grade students found that 49% reported having had sexual intercourse at least once, and 34% reported having multiple partners.[6]

Besides the high rates of sexual activity and multiple partners, one possible reason for the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) involves lack of condom use. Despite warnings from public health officials and the best educational efforts, most sexually active young women and men do not use condoms.[7-9] One study found that, during a three-month period, only 13% of sexually active college students reported always using a condom during vaginal intercourse and 66% never used a condom.[3]

Jones el al[6] also found that one-third of sexually active high school students always used condoms. The 1991 YRBS reported that 46% of sexually active students used a condom at the last sexual intercourse.[5] Additional research determined that when young people do use condoms, they do so sporadically.[10,11]

Another common health risk behavior among adolescent and young adult populations involves alcohol use. Among high school students, 89% of high school seniors reported having tried alcohol at least once.[12] A 1992 National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA) Household Survey[13] found that among the 28 million 18-25 year-olds in the United States, 86.3% had used alcohol.

Weschler et al[14] reported that 44% of 17,592 surveyed college students were binge drinkers, including 19% who were frequent binge drinkers. A 1993 survey at a large Texas university found that 89% of 781 students surveyed indicated they consumed beer at least once, while 67.4% had smoked cigarettes, according to an unpublished report titled 1993 Southwest Texas State University Student Drug Use Report and Comparisons of Alcohol and Other Drug Use Among SWT Students 1989 to 1993.

The 1991 YRBS found that 70% of students in grades 9-12 had tried cigarette smoking, with the percentage of students who tried cigarette smoking increasing significantly between grades nine and 12. By 1990, smoking rates for high school seniors were 29%.[15] Additional research revealed that about 24.5% of those ages 12-17 had tried cigarettes, with 9.6% having used cigarettes the past month.[16]

This study determined the rates of selected health risks and the age of initiation of these risks among high school and college populations in Texas. A study of these cohort groups encouraged linking public schools with colleges and universities in developing health education interventions to provide a consistent and continuous risk reduction message throughout the adolescent and young adult years. …

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