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CDC’s Youth Risk Surveys Provide Data to Improve Adolescent and School Health

Background

CDC is committed to protecting and improving the health and quality of life of children and adolescents. Our nation's state and local education agencies and schools are significant partners in the effort to not only protect the health of children, but to also help educate them on how to live a healthy life now and as they grow into adulthood. Information on youth health risk behaviors and school health policies and practices is gathered to help public health and education professionals identify national, state, and local youth health risk behaviors and develop school health programs, policies, and practices. This type of information is of interest to a variety of audiences (e.g., school board members, school administrators, teachers, parents, legislators, community health organizations) and can be used to focus efforts on improving the health of youth, tracking progress over time, and assessing program effectiveness.

Photo: Group of teenagersThe data CDC collects are vital to knowing the trends and changes in youth health risk behaviors, and determining the extent to which school policies and practices are in place that can help improve the health of youth. Timely and ongoing data collection, analysis, and dissemination help CDC meet the information needs of public health and education professionals and support efforts for continual program improvement. Some of the uses for the data collected include

  • Planning and monitoring programs and their progress;
  • Supporting efforts to improve policies and initiatives;
  • Garnering financial support for program activities;
  • Identifying professional development and training needs;
  • Measuring the Department of Health and Human Services Healthy People 2020 national health objectives;
  • Helping states and districts determine funding priorities;
  • Helping parents, school board members and administrators, teachers, and other community members determine how local school health policies and programs compare to those nationwide;
  • Determining how well school health policies and programs address important public health issues and priority health risk behaviors among students; and
  • Helping to understand and evaluate whether schools are implementing policies and practices effectively.

CDC’s Monitoring Systems Support School-based Health Efforts

Identification of trends in youth health risk behaviors and in school health policies and practices are part of the strategies CDC uses to achieve its mission to improve the health and quality of life of children and adolescents. CDC manages three state-of-the-art surveillance systems that collect, analyze, and disseminate these critical data. They are the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS); School Health Profiles (Profiles); and School Health Policies and Practices Study (SHPPS).

The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) is the only surveillance system in the United States 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.  It is designed to

  • Determine the prevalence of health-risk behaviors among various subpopulations of youth.
  • Assess how these behaviors change over time.
  • Examine the co-occurrence of health-risk behaviors.
  • Monitor progress toward achieving national health objectives and other program indicators.

The YRBSS is composed of national, state, and local school-based surveys, is conducted every 2 years since 1991, and looks at priority health risk behaviors among youth including those related to unintentional injuries and violence; sexual behaviors that contribute to HIV infection, other sexually transmitted diseases, and unintended pregnancy; tobacco use; alcohol and other drug use; unhealthy dietary behaviors; and physical inactivity, as well as obesity and asthma among students.

The School Health Profiles (Profiles) is the only surveillance system in the United States that provides representative state and local data on school health practices and policies.  Profiles provides representative data on school health practices and policies through a system of surveys that assess school health policies and practices in states, large urban school districts, territories, and tribal governments. Since 1994, Profiles has been conducted every 2 years by education and health agencies among middle and high school principals and lead health education teachers to learn about the status of

  • School health coordination.
  • School health education requirements and content.
  • Physical education requirements.
  • Physical activity practices.
  • Health services.
  • Nutrition-related policies and practices.
  • School health policies related to HIV infection/AIDS and tobacco-use prevention.
  • Professional preparation and professional development for lead health education teachers.
  • Family and community involvement in school health programs.

The School Health Policies and Practices Study (SHPPS) is the largest, most comprehensive study of school health policies and practices in the United States. SHPPS assesses the characteristics of school health policies and practices at the state, district, school, and classroom levels nationwide. SHPPS was conducted in 1994, 2000, and 2006, and was conducted at the state and district levels in 2012. These studies were designed to answer the following questions:

  • What are the characteristics of each school health program component at the state, district, school, and classroom levels and across elementary, middle, and high schools?
  • Is there someone responsible for coordinating and delivering each school health program component and what are their qualifications and educational background?
  • What collaboration occurs among staff from each school health program component and with staff from outside agencies and organizations?
  • How have key policies and practices changed over time?

How Survey Data Are Used to Improve Adolescent and School Health

These information gathering tools help provide data to inform the work and evaluate the progress of CDC and others in meeting national goals and objectives  designed to protect and improve the health of children and adolescents. The systems are also unique sources of support for health protection efforts through funding and technical assistance that enables state and local education agencies to deliver data-driven and scientifically sound prevention programs that are grounded in the latest research on effectiveness. Many of the strategies implemented by schools are focused on building self-esteem and respect, educating about health risk behaviors, and providing tools to help make healthy decisions, such as eating healthy foods, avoiding tobacco and alcohol, protecting oneself against HIV and STDs, and reducing teen pregnancy.

CDC and other federal agencies routinely use the survey data to assess trends in priority health risk behaviors among high school students, monitor progress toward achieving national health objectives, and evaluate the contribution of broad-based prevention efforts in schools toward helping the nation reduce health risk behaviors among youth.

More Information

  • Page last reviewed: December 19, 2013
  • Page last updated: December 19, 2013
  • Content source:
    • Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
    • Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
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