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2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) Results

In the United States, schools play a critical role in promoting the health and safety of young people and helping them establish lifelong healthy behaviors. Each school day, the nation’s schools provide an opportunity for more than 55 million students to learn about the dangers of unhealthy behaviors and practice the skills that promote a healthy lifestyle. Unhealthy behaviors are often established during childhood and persist into adulthood.

Results from the 2011 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) show that significant progress has been made in improving behaviors related to motor vehicle safety. Since 1991, the percentage of high school students who never or rarely wear seat belts has declined from 26% to 8%, and the percentage of high school students who rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol during the past 30 days has declined from 40% to 24%. In addition, since 1997, the percentage of high school students who had driven a car when they had been drinking alcohol during the past 30 days decreased from 17% to 8%.

Photo: Youth with cellphone Though notable progress also has been made in reducing alcohol use, alcohol remains the most commonly used drug among high school students. Since 1999 the percentage of high school students who drank alcohol during the past 30 days decreased from 50% to 39% and, since 1997, the percentage who reported binge drinking (having 5 or more drinks of alcohol in a row during the past 30 days) decreased from 33% to 22%. Yet, more than 1 in 3 high school students reported current alcohol use in 2011, and 1 in 5 high school students reported binge drinking. Furthermore, marijuana use during the past 30 days decreased from 27% in 1999 to 23% in 2011, but it is now more prevalent than cigarette use during the past 30 days (23% vs. 18%).

The 2011 National YRBS showed for the first time that 1 of every 3 (33%) students had texted or e-mailed while driving a car or other vehicle during the past 30 days, and 1 of every 6 (16%) had been electronically bullied through e-mail, chat rooms, instant messaging, Web sites, or texting during the past 12 months—documenting unsafe practices and a troubling public health issue.

What the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) Monitors

The CDC’s YRBSS is the only surveillance system designed to monitor a wide range of priority health risk behaviors among representative samples of high school students at the national, state, and local levels.

National, state, and large urban school district surveys are conducted every two years among high school students throughout the United States. These surveys monitor priority health risk behaviors including unintentional injuries and violence; tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use; sexual behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection; unhealthy dietary behaviors; and physical inactivity. These surveys also monitor obesity and asthma among students.

Photo: Youth in hallway More than 15,000 U.S. high school students participated in the 2011 National YRBS. Parental permission was obtained for students to participate in the survey. Student participation was voluntary, and responses were anonymous. States and large urban school districts could modify the questionnaire to meet their needs. The 2011 report includes National YRBS data and data from surveys conducted in 43 states and 21 large urban school districts.

The 2011 YRBS results are now available on the YRBS Web site. Available materials include —

  • The MMWR Surveillance Summary – Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, United States, 2011
  • Trend fact sheets among students overall and by race/ethnicity
  • Comparisons of state or large urban school district results with national results
  • Enhancements to Youth Online, an interactive data exploration tool
  • Public use national data sets and technical documentation
  • Tailored YRBS data widget

To receive timely e-mail updates about YRBSS data and new products, subscribe at

What CDC Is Doing to Help Reduce the Prevalence of Health Risk Behaviors Among Students

CDC works with other federal agencies, national nongovernmental organizations, and state and local departments of education, health, and social services to —

  1. Identify and monitor critical health events and youth behaviors, and related school policies and practices.
  2. Summarize and apply research findings to increase the effectiveness of interventions.
  3. Provide funding and assistance to help plan, implement, and evaluate interventions that reduce risk behaviors and promote healthy practices.

However, there is no simple solution. We all have a role to play in ensuring the health of our nation’s youth. Families, schools, community organizations, and youth themselves must work together to help address these health risk behaviors.

More Information

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  • Page last reviewed: June 7, 2012
  • Page last updated: June 7, 2012
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