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CDC's Youth Risk Surveys

Group of students sitting on grassCDC supports adolescent and school health efforts using three state-of-the-art monitoring systems designed to collect, analyze, and disseminate data on youth risk behaviors and school health policies and practices.

Background

CDC is committed to protecting and improving the health and quality of life of adolescents. Our nation's state and local education agencies and schools are significant partners in the effort to not only protect the health of adolescents, 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.

The 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 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.
Group of teenagers

Information on school health policies is gathered to help public health and education professionals identify risk behaviors and develop school health programs.

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 adolescents. CDC manages three state-of-the-art surveillance systems that collect, analyze, and disseminate these critical data. These systems 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. The YRBSS was designed to

  • Determine the prevalence of health behaviors;
  • Assess whether health  behaviors increase, decrease, or stay the same over time;
  • Examine the co-occurrence of health  behaviors;
  • Provide comparable national, state, territorial, tribal, and local data;
  • Provide comparable data among subpopulations of youth; and
  • Monitor progress toward achieving the Healthy People 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 related to unintended pregnancy and  sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection; tobacco use; alcohol and other drug use; unhealthy dietary behaviors; and inadequate physical activity, as well as obesity and asthma and other priority health-related behaviors, plus sexual identity and sex of sexual contacts. More than 15,000 U.S. high school students participated in the 2015 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). The report on the 2015 surveys includes national YRBS data and data from surveys conducted in 37 states and 19 large urban school districts.

In August 2016, CDC released the first nationally representative study on the health risks of sexual minority high school students in the U.S. To understand more about behaviors that can contribute to negative health outcomes among sexual minority students, a question to ascertain sexual identity and a question to ascertain sex of sexual contacts was added for the first time to the national and standard YRBS questionnaires. These new data offer insight into the health risks of approximately 1.3 million lesbian, gay, and bisexual high school 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 and territories. 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 education requirements and content;
  • Physical education and physical activity;
  • Practices related to bullying and sexual harassment;
  • School health policies related to tobacco-use prevention and nutrition;
  • School-based health services;
  • Family engagement and community involvement; and
  • School health coordination.

The 2014 Profiles reports and maps are available on the Profiles results page.

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 designed by CDC to answer the following questions:

  • What are the characteristics of each component of school health at the state, district, school, and classroom levels?
  • Are there persons responsible for coordinating each school health program component, and what are their qualifications and educational backgrounds?
  • 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?

Comprehensive results and fact sheets from SHPPS 2014 are available on the SHPPS Results page.

How Survey Data are Used to Improve Adolescent and School Health

These surveillance systems 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 adolescents. The systems are also unique sources of support for health protection efforts through funding and technical assistance that enables state and local education and health agencies to deliver data-driven and scientifically sound prevention programs 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.

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