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Frequently Asked Questions

Requesting Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) Data Files

For which jurisdictions are YRBSS data files available?

YRBSS data files are available for the United States overall, most states, some territories, some large school districts, and some tribal governments. Availability depends on YRBS participation, data quality, and data-sharing policies.

How can I get United States YRBSS data files?

National YRBSS data files and documentation are available for download at YRBSS Data Files & Methods. There is no charge for the data nor is permission needed to download or use the data. The national data files do not contain state or region identifiers because the national samples are not constructed to provide representative data at state or region levels. However, national data files with state identifiers included are available upon request using the YRBSS Data Request Form.

How can I get state, district, territory, or tribal government YRBSS data?

State, district, territory, and tribal government data and documentation are owned and controlled by the jurisdictions that conducted the surveys. Many sites have given CDC permission to distribute their data upon request, but others manage the distribution of their data files themselves.

To request data files and documentation for a specific jurisdiction, follow these steps:

  • View the High School or Middle School participation pages to see which sites have weighted data in which survey years and to see which sites have given permission for CDC to distribute their data.
  • Complete the YRBSS Data Request Form, indicating the survey data you would like to receive.
  • For sites that have given us YRBSS data distribution permission, we will email data files to you directly. For sites that have not given us distribution permission, we will email you contact information for that site; you will need to contact the site directly to discuss your data request.
Why are results not available from every state?

Results are not available from every state for several reasons. First, some states do not participate in the YRBSS. Second, some states that do participate do not achieve a high enough overall response rate to receive weighted results. Therefore, their results are not posted on the CDC web site and CDC does not distribute their data. The Participation Map and the Participation History & Data Quality tables provide more details on which states participated in the YRBS and whether they obtained weighted data.

Are county level YRBSS results available?

In 2011, CDC funded 22 large urban school districts to conduct a YRBS. Six of them (Broward County, FL; Charlotte-Mecklenburg County, NC; Duval County, FL; Miami-Dade County, FL; Orange County, FL; Palm Beach County, FL) are county-based school districts. The other funded school districts are identified on the Middle School YRBS Participation Map and the Middle School YRBS History of Participation & Data Quality tables.

County-level identifiers are not available in the National YRBSS data file or in state data files. County-level data are not available in any YRBS except for the large school districts mentioned above.

In which data file formats are YRBSS data available?

National YRBSS data files are available in SAS, SPSS, ASCII, and Access formats. They can be downloaded at YRBSS Data Files & Methods.

State, district, territory, and tribal government data from surveys conducted since 1999 are available in SAS, SPSS, ASCII, and Access formats. State, district, territory, and tribal government data from surveys conducted prior to 1999 are available in ASCII only.

Analyzing YRBS Data Files

What software should I use to analyze YRBS data?

See Software for Analysis of YRBS Data [pdf 285K] for a review of software packages suitable for analyzing YRBS data and guidance on how to use them.

How are the national, state, and local YRBS data different?

National, state, territory, and local YRBS data come from separate scientific samples of schools and students. National YRBS data are not the aggregate of the state YRBS data. State, territory, and local YRBS data are not subsets of the National YRBS data set. National, state, territory, and local YRBSs all follow the same survey methodology and use the same core questionnaire.

Does the National YRBS include schools and students from every state?

No. The national YRBS sample is designed to be representative of students in grades 9-12 in the United States overall and therefore does not necessarily include students from every state.

Is there a national middle school YRBS?

No. However, middle school results are available for some states, districts, territories, and tribal governments that have elected to conduct a middle school YRBS in their jurisdiction. Middle school YRBS results are available on Youth Online.

Can I calculate state-level estimates of a risk behavior using the national YRBS data?

No, the national YRBS was not designed to produce representative estimates at the state level.

Is it possible to analyze associations between state-level characteristics and student-level risk behaviors using the national YRBS data?

This type of analysis has significant limitations and should be conducted with caution. A state-level characteristic, such as the presence of a state law, can be added to a regression model as an exogenous (independent) variable and will yield statistically correct estimates. However, it is important to fully consider the context of these estimates. The national YRBS was not designed to produce representative estimates at the state level, the number of students chosen from states varies considerably and is usually too small to generate precise or stable state-level estimates, and fewer than 50 states are included in the national sample each cycle. Thus, researchers should fully investigate the implications and interpretations of this type of analysis and should understand the sampling design of the national YRBS and how that design might influence their results. See Methodology of the YRBSS [pdf 420K] for more information about the national YRBS sampling design.

Can I calculate prevalence estimates by urban/rural status? Is an urban/rural identifier available for the national YRBS data files?

No, the national YRBS was not designed to produce estimates by urban/rural status. In the national YRBS, PSUs are selected based on urban and non-urban definitions, but it does not necessarily follow that a non-urban area is rural. Urban status indicates only that the PSU was one of the largest 54 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs); non-urban indicates that the PSU was not one of the largest 54 MSAs; it could be rural but is not necessarily rural. See Methodology of the YRBSS [pdf 420K] for more information about the national YRBS sampling design.

How do I use the SAS format library?

The SAS format library contains the formats used to make SAS output more readable. Formats are linked to the data so that results are displayed as words (“Male” or “Female”, for instance) instead of numbers (1 or 2). The SAS YRBS data file is designed to use its companion format library.

The following example SAS program shows how to use the format library. It assumes that both the data file and the format library are in “c:\data”. Note that the program contains two libname statements. The first libname statement indicates where the data file is located; the second libname statement indicates where the format library is located.

libname mydata 'c:\data'; /* tells SAS where the data are */
libname library 'c:\data'; /* tells SAS where the formats are */
 
proc freq data=mydata.yrbs2005;
tables q2;
 
run;

Using the format library is recommended but technically is optional. If you do not want to use the format library, include the following statement at the start of your SAS program:

options nofmterr; /* tells SAS to not look for formats */

Please note that each year of YRBS data has its own format library. Format libraries are not the same across years of data.

For further information on using format libraries, please consult your SAS documentation.

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Uses of Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) Results

How are the YRBSS results used?

State, territorial, and local agencies and nongovernmental organizations use YRBS data to set and track progress toward meeting school health and health promotion program goals, support modification of school health curricula or other programs, support new legislation and policies that promote health, and seek funding and other support for new initiatives.

CDC and other federal agencies routinely use YRBS 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 prevention efforts in schools and other settings toward helping the nation reduce health risk behaviors among youth.

Where can I find more information on using YRBS data?

Uses of Youth Risk Behavior Survey and School Health Profiles Data: Applications for Improving Adolescent and School Health
Foti K, Balaji A, Shanklin S
Journal of School Health 2011;81(6):345-354

Can student behavior changes over time be tracked using the YRBSS?

Yes. The YRBSS tracks aggregate changes in student behavior over time. See the National Trends Fact Sheets for more information.

Does the YRBSS track specific students over time?

No. Each year a new sample of schools and students is drawn. Students who participated cannot be tracked because no identifying information is collected.

Is it appropriate to report prevalence estimates for any of the racial/ethnic subgroups (e.g., American Indian/Alaskan Native students) asked about on the National YRBS questionnaire?

Although prevalence estimates generated for students in each racial/ethnic subgroup are representative of these students nationally, caution should be used when analyzing and interpreting these data. Because of the small numbers of students in some racial/ethnic subgroups who participate in any single National YRBS, the estimates will lack precision. Precision can be improved by combining multiple years of National YRBS data.

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Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) Questionnaire Content

Is the YRBS questionnaire available in languages other than English?

The YRBS questionnaire is not available in languages other than English. The YRBS questionnaire was designed to be administered in a school setting. Therefore, it is important to consider the language used in regular classrooms. If testing in subjects such as math or social studies is conducted in English, it may not be necessary to translate the YRBS questionnaire. Check with school officials before deciding whether or not translation is needed.

However, YRBS questionnaires are in the public domain and may be freely translated and used in any language. No specific permission is required.

What is the suggested citation for the YRBS questionnaire in a publication?

The YRBS questionnaire should be cited as follows:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [survey year] Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Available at: www.cdc.gov/yrbs. Accessed on [date].

What behaviors are assessed by the YRBSS?

The YRBSS assesses six categories of priority health risk behaviors—behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence; sexual behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection; alcohol and other drug use; tobacco use; unhealthy dietary behaviors; inadequate physical activity.

Will asking questions about certain topics actually encourage certain behaviors?

There is no evidence that simply asking students about health risk behaviors will encourage them to try that behavior.

Can state and local agencies that conduct a YRBS modify the standard questionnaire?

Yes. State and local agencies that conduct a YRBS can add or delete questions to meet their policy or programmatic needs. Specific guidance on the parameters that must be followed during questionnaire modification is provided to those agencies funded by CDC to conduct a YRBS.

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Administration & Data Release

When will updated YRBS results be released?

Updated YRBS results are released in the summer of the year following survey administration. Therefore, results from the 2013 national, state, and local YRBS administration, for instance, will be released in an MMWR Surveillance Summary during the summer of 2014. The specific release date will be posted on the YRBS home page as soon as it has been determined.

How long does it take to complete a YRBS questionnaire? Does the survey include a physical test?

One class period is needed. It takes approximately 10 minutes for the survey administrator to distribute survey materials and read directions to the students. It then takes approximately 35 minutes for students to record their responses. No physical test or exam is involved.

How should the YRBS be conducted?

YRBS procedures are designed to protect student privacy by allowing for anonymous participation. Participation in the YRBS is voluntary. Local parental permission procedures are followed. Students complete the self-administered questionnaire during one class period and record their responses on a computer-scannable questionnaire booklet or separate answer sheet.

Is parental permission obtained? What type?

Yes. Local parental permission procedures are followed prior to administration of a YRBS.

Are students required to participate in the YRBS?

No. The YRBS is always a voluntary activity for states, school districts, schools, and students.

Can my district volunteer to be in a YRBS?

Not in a YRBS supported by CDC. Any district or school may choose to conduct its own YRBS. See A Guide to Conducting Your Own Youth Risk Behavior Survey [pdf 108K] for information useful to communities and groups that plan to conduct their own YRBS survey.

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Validity & Reliability

Do students tell the truth on the YRBS questionnaire?

Research indicates data of this nature may be gathered as credibly from adolescents as from adults. Internal reliability checks help identify the small percentage of students who falsify their answers. To obtain truthful answers, students must perceive the survey as important and know procedures have been developed to protect their privacy and allow for anonymous participation.

What kinds of validation or reliability studies have been done on the YRBS questionnaire?

The Methodology of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System [pdf 420K] contains a description of most of the methodological studies conducted to date on the YRBS questionnaire or YRBS data collection procedures. In addition, the list of YRBS publications and journal articles contains the actual journal articles describing the results of these studies.

These methodological studies include test-retest reliability studies on the 1991 and 1999 versions of the questionnaire; a study assessing the validity of self-reported height and weight; a study assessing the effect of changing the race/ethnicity question; a study examining how varying honesty appeals, question wording, and data-editing protocols affect prevalence estimates; and a study examining how varying the mode and setting of survey administration affects prevalence estimates.

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Methodology

What does it mean for data to be “weighted?”

Weighting is a mathematical procedure that makes data representative of the population from which it was drawn. In the YRBSS, only surveys with a scientifically drawn sample, appropriate documentation, and an overall response rate of at least 60% are weighted.

How are YRBS data weighted?

YRBS data are weighted to adjust for school and student nonresponse and to make the data representative of the population of students from which the sample was drawn. Generally, these adjustments are made by applying a weight based on student sex, grade, and race/ethnicity.

Who does the National YRBS data represent?

National YRBS data are representative of all public and private school students in grades 9-12 in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. National YRBS data are not the aggregate of the state YRBS data; the National YRBS uses a separate scientific sample of schools and students.

Who does the state and local YRBS data represent?

State, territory and local YRBS data that are weighted are representative of all public school students in grades 9-12 in the respective jurisdiction. State, territory, and local YRBS data that are not weighted are representative only of the students who completed the survey in the respective jurisdiction.

How are schools and students selected?

For the national, state, territory, and local YRBS samples, schools are selected with probability proportional to the size of student enrollment in grades 9-12 and then required classes of students (e.g., English classes) are randomly selected to participate. Within selected classes, all students are eligible to participate. See the Methodology of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System [pdf 420K] for a more detailed description of sampling procedures.

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Conducting Your Own YRBS

How do I conduct a YRBS in my area/district/school?

See A Guide to Conducting Your Own Youth Risk Behavior Survey [pdf 108K] for information useful to communities and groups that plan to conduct their own YRBS survey.

Do I need permission to use the YRBS questionnaire for my study/area/district/school? Is there a cost?

The YRBS questionnaire is in the public domain and no permission is required to use it. You may download the questionnaire no charge. See Questionnaires and Item Rationale for the most recent YRBS questionnaires.

If I conduct a YRBS, can CDC help me scan, process, or tabulate my data?

CDC provides data processing assistance only to states, territories, and large urban school districts that it funds directly to conduct a YRBS. However, documentation on how the data are processed can be found on the YRBS Data Files and Methods page and in the Methodology of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System [pdf 420K].

Is funding available for conducting a YRBS?

CDC has funding available for all 50 state education agencies and only a small number of territories, tribal governments, and large urban school districts during each five year funding cycle.

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