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YRBSS Frequently Asked Questions

Top Five YRBSS Frequently Asked Questions

Are YRBSS results available by zip code, census tract, school, large urban school district, or county? Are YRBSS results available for my town/city/large urban school district?

YRBSS data are not available by zip code, census tract, or school. Sample size limitations and confidentiality requirements do not support analyses at these levels.

YRBSS data are available for a small number of specifically funded large urban school districts or counties. CDC funds certain large urban school districts to conduct the YRBSS. Some of those large urban school districts are county-based. See Participation History & Data Quality for more information about county-based large urban school districts with YRBSS data. Data are only available for large urban school districts or counties on the list; no other local YRBSS data are available.

County-level identifiers are not available in the National YRBS data set or in most state data sets.

When are updated YRBSS results released?

Most YRBS’s are conducted during the spring of odd-numbered years and results are released in the summer of the following year. Therefore, results from the 2015 national, state, and local YRBSS administration, for instance, were released in an MMWR Surveillance Summary during the summer of 2016. The specific release date for a given cycle is posted on the YRBSS home page as soon as it has been determined.

What is the suggested citation for the YRBSS questionnaire or YRBSS data in a publication?

YRBSS questionnaires should be cited as follows:

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

YRBSS data in a publication should be cited as follows:

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

Do I need permission to use YRBSS Questionnaires for my study/area/large urban school district/school? Is there a cost?

The YRBSS questionnaires are in the public domain and no permission is required to use them. You may download and use the questionnaires as is or with changes at no charge. See YRBSS Questionnaires for the most recent YRBSS questionnaires.

Are the YRBSS questionnaires available in languages other than English?

YRBSS questionnaires are not available in languages other than English. YRBSS questionnaires were 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 YRBSS questionnaires. Check with school officials before deciding whether or not translation is needed.

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

Data Availability and Requesting YRBSS Data Files

Are YRBSS results available by zip code, census tract, school, large urban school district, or county? Are YRBSS results available for my town/city/large urban school district?

YRBSS data are not available by zip code, census tract, or school.  Sample size limitations and confidentiality requirements do not support analyses at these levels. 

YRBSS data are available for a small number of specifically funded large urban school districts or counties. CDC funds certain large urban school districts to conduct the YRBSS. Some of those large urban school districts are county-based. See Participation Maps & History for more information about county-based large urban school districts with YRBSS data. Data are only available for large urban school districts or counties on the list; no other local YRBSS data are available.

County-level identifiers are not available in the National YRBS data set or in most state data sets.

For which jurisdictions are YRBSS data sets available?

YRBSS data sets are available for the United States overall, most states, some territories, some large urban school districts, and some tribal governments. Availability depends on YRBSS participation, data quality, and data-sharing policies. See Participation Maps & History for more information about data availability.

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

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

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

  • View the High School or Middle School participation history and data quality 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 CDC YRBSS data distribution permission, we will email data sets 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, three states (Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington) 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 YRBSS and whether they obtained weighted data.

How can I get National YRBSS data sets?

National YRBS data sets and documentation are available for download at YRBSS Data & Documentation. There is no charge for the data nor is permission needed to download or use the data.

Do the National YRBS data sets have state identifiers?

The National YRBS data sets posted on the YRBSS web site 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 YRBS data sets with state identifiers included are available upon request using the YRBSS Data Request Form. The National YRBS data sets will not contain data from every state because the National YRBS is an independent sample; it is not the aggregate of individual state and local data sets.

Is the National YRBS data set a combination of all the data sets from the states conducting their own YRBS?

No, the National YRBS results are not the combination of state and large urban school district data. The National YRBS data are a separately drawn sample of high school students in grades 9-12 in the U.S. Some states may not have any schools chosen as part of the sample. States and large urban school districts each use a sample design that produces a representative sample of students in grades 9-12 for their state or large urban school district. If you want to analyze state or large urban school district data please see Participation Maps & History for more information about data availability.

Do the National YRBS data sets 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 but does necessarily include students from every state.

In which data file formats are National YRBS data available?

National YRBS data sets are available in two file formats: Access and ASCII. Additionally, SAS and SPSS programs are provided to convert the ASCII data into SAS and SPSS datasets. They can be downloaded at YRBSS Data & Documentation.

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

Administration & Data Release

When are updated YRBS results released?

Most YRBS’s are conducted during the spring of odd-numbered years and results are released in the summer of the following year. Therefore, results from the 2015 national, state, and local YRBSS administration, for instance, were released in an MMWR Surveillance Summary during the summer of 2016. The specific release date for a given cycle is posted on the YRBSS home page as soon as it has been determined.

Can my large urban school district volunteer to be in a YRBS?

No, not in a YRBS supported by CDC. These surveys only use scientifically selected samples of schools. Any large urban school district or school may choose to conduct its own YRBSS. See A Guide to Conducting Your Own Youth Risk Behavior Survey [PDF - 382 KB] for information useful to communities and groups that plan to conduct their own YRBS.

How are the YRBS’s conducted?

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

See Methodology of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System—2013 for details about how the YRBS is conducted

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.

Is parental permission obtained?

Yes. Local parental permission procedures are followed prior to administration of YRBS’s supported by CDC.

Are students required to participate in the YRBSS?

No. YRBS’s supported by CDC are always a voluntary activity for states, large urban school districts, schools, and students.

Conducting Your Own YRBS

Do I need permission to use YRBSS questionnaires for my study/area/district/school? Is there a cost?

The YRBSS questionnaires are in the public domain and no permission is required to use them. You may download the questionnaires at no charge. See YRBSS Questionnaires for the most recent YRBSS questionnaires.

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

See A Guide to Conducting Your Own Youth Risk Behavior Survey [PDF - 382 KB] for information useful to communities and groups that plan to conduct their own YRBS survey.

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 large urban school large urban school districts that it funds directly to conduct a YRBSS. However, information on how the data are processed can be found on the Methods page and in the Methodology of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System.

Is funding available for conducting a YRBS?

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

YRBS Questionnaires

Are the YRBSS questionnaires available in languages other than English?

The YRBSS questionnaires are not available in languages other than English. The YRBSS questionnaires were 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 YRBSS questionnaires. Check with school officials before deciding whether or not translation is needed.

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

Will asking questions about certain topics actually encourage certain behaviors?

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

What is the suggested citation for a YRBSS questionnaire or YRBSS data in a publication?

The YRBSS questionnaire should be cited as follows:

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

YRBSS data in a publication should be cited as follows:

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

What behaviors are assessed by the YRBSS?

The YRBSS assesses six categories of priority health behaviors—behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence; sexual behaviors related to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection; alcohol and other drug use; tobacco use; unhealthy dietary behaviors; inadequate physical activity. In addition, the YRBSS assesses obesity, overweight, asthma and other important health issues.

Can state and local agencies that conduct a YRBSS 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.

Are transgender students included in the national, state, and large urban school district YRBS's?

Yes. All students in sampled classrooms are included as long as they are able to respond to the questionnaire in a private and anonymous matter.

Does the YRBS identify transgender students?

CDC has been working with advocates and researchers for several cycles to develop a question to identify transgender students. Unfortunately, to date we do not yet have a question that generates credible results. After careful review of the literature on measuring transgender status (mostly among adults), consideration of what questions has been asked on previous YRBS questionnaires and the results they yielded, and consultation with advocates and partners who are familiar with the issues surrounding measurement of transgender status among youth, we have proposed a question that interested states and large urban school districts will pilot during the 2017 YRBS cycle.

Analyzing YRBSS Data

What software should I use to analyze YRBSS data?

See Software for Analysis of YRBS Data [PDF - 487 KB] for a review of software packages suitable for analyzing YRBSS data and guidance on how to use them.

How are the national, state, territory, tribal government, and local YRBS data different? Are the national data the aggregate of the all of the state and other YRBS data?

National, state, territory, tribal government, 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 sets. State, territory, tribal government, and local YRBS data are not subsets of the National YRBSS data set. National, state, territory, tribal government, and local YRBS’s all follow the same survey methodology and use the same core questionnaire.

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 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 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System 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 sets?

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 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System  for more information about the National YRBS sampling design.

Uses of YRBSS Results

How are the YRBSS results used?

State, territorial, tribal government, and local agencies and nongovernmental organizations use YRBSS 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 YRBSS data to assess trends in priority health 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 YRBSS data?

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 cycle 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 may lack precision. Precision can be improved by combining multiple years of National YRBS data.

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 contains a description of most of the methodological studies conducted to date on the YRBSS questionnaires or YRBSS data collection procedures. In addition, the list of YRBSS MMWR 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.

Methodology

What is the methodology of the YRBS?

See Methodology of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System—2013 for details about how YRBSS are conducted.

How are schools and students selected?

For the national, state, territory, tribal government, 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) or a specific period of the school day (e.g., 2nd period) are randomly selected to participate. Within selected classes, all students are eligible to participate. See the Methodology of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System for a more detailed description of sampling procedures.

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 Large urban school district of Columbia. National YRBS data sets are not the aggregate of the state YRBS data sets; the National YRBS uses a separate scientific sample of schools and students.

Who does the state and local YRBS data represent?

Most state, territory, tribal government, and local YRBS data that are weighted are representative of all public school students in grades 9-12 in the respective jurisdiction. Some of these surveys also include private schools in their sampling frame.  So their weighted data are representative of all public and private school students in grades 9-12 in their jurisdiction.  State, territory, tribal government, and local YRBS data that are not weighted are representative only of the students who completed the survey in the respective jurisdiction.

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 YRBSS data weighted?

YRBSS 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.

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