The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System: Updating Policy and Program Applications. (Articles)

By Sussman, Michele P.; Jones, Sherry Everett et al. | Journal of School Health, January 2002 | Go to article overview

The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System: Updating Policy and Program Applications. (Articles)


Sussman, Michele P., Jones, Sherry Everett, Wilson, Todd W., Kann, Laura, Journal of School Health


In 1989, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) to monitor behaviors that place adolescents most at risk for premature morbidity and mortality. (1) The YRBSS measures the following six categories of behaviors: behaviors that contribute to violence and unintentional injuries; tobacco use; alcohol and other drug use; sexual behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection; unhealthy dietary behaviors; and inadequate physical activity. The YRBSS has five components: 1) state and large city school-based surveys of 9th- through 12th-grade students; 2) national school-based surveys of 9th- through 12th-grade students; 3) a national household survey of 12- to 21-year-old youth; 4) a national mail-survey of college students in two- and four-year institutions; and 5) special population surveys.

State and local school-based Youth Risk Behavior Surveys (YRBS) are conducted by interested education and health agencies as part of cooperative agreement activities with the CDC. These surveys were first conducted in 1990 and have been conducted biennially since 1991. The number of sites that participated in the YRBS increased from 24 states and 8 large cities in 1990 to 42 states, 4 territories, and 16 large cities in 1999. In 1999, 37 sites (23 states, 1 territory, and 13 cities) had weighted data that could be generalized to the entire high school population in each site's jurisdiction.

On request, CDC provides both fiscal and technical assistance to interested education and health agencies that choose to conduct a YRBS. Technical assistance addresses survey planning, clearance, sampling, survey administration, data analysis, and uses of data. The CDC provides education and health agencies with advice based on survey research science and best practices from actual experience in the field. As more education and health agencies participate in the YRBSS, the CDC increasingly is asked to assist with the application and use of results. In addition to questions about interpretation of data and analysis of trends over time, education and health agencies often ask how other state and federal agencies use YRBS data to improve policies or programs for youth. To respond to these questions, in 1995, CDC staff compiled a summary of how some agencies were using their YRBS data. (2) This article provides an update on the diverse uses of YRBS data.

In spring 2000, the authors of this article spoke to 27 state agencies, 13 local agencies, and 5 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) funded by the CDC to identify how they used YRBS data. The five NGOs were the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Association of State Boards of Education, the National School Boards Association, and the Society of State Directors of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation. Although not all state and local agencies who conducted a YRBS were contacted, the activities of agencies presented here probably represent the kinds of activities conducted by other agencies with YRBS data. Each agency or NGO representative provided multiple examples of interesting and innovative ways in which they used YRBS data. A number of examples that illustrated the diversity of uses of YRBS data were selected for this article. Interested readers can contact any agency or organization directly for more detailed information about the policies, programs, initiatives, and other activities described. This information might encourage new and innovative uses of YRBS data by agencies and NGOs.

USES OF YRBS DATA

Education and health agencies and NGOs, in collaboration with community agencies, school boards, parents, and youth, use YRBS data to help describe risk behaviors, create awareness, supplement staff development, set and monitor program goals, develop health education programs, support health-related legislation, and seek funding. …

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