Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System

surveyThe Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) is a biennial national survey, conducted by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), that was designed to enable public health professionals, educators, policymakers, and researchers to 1) describe the prevalence of health-risk behaviors among youths, 2) assess trends in health-risk behaviors over time, and 3) evaluate and improve health-related policies and programs. The survey focuses almost exclusively on the types of risky behaviors as opposed to the causes of those behaviors. This is done in an effort to more clearly define the direct connection between specific health-risk behaviors and their outcomes (i.e. alcohol and other drug use as it relates to poor academic achievement). 

Originally created in the early 1990s as a means to monitor progress towards protecting youth from HIV infection, the surveillance system now monitors six categories of health-related behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death and disability among youth and adolescents, including:

  • Behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence. 
    –  During the 30 days before the 2017 survey, 16.5% of students nationwide had ridden one or more times in a car or other vehicle driven by someone who had been drinking alcohol. 
  • Sexual behaviors related to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. 
    – Among currently sexually active students, only 53.8% reported that either they or their partner had used a condom during their last sexual intercourse.
  • Alcohol and other drug use.
    – During the 30 days before the 2017 survey, 29.8% of surveyed students reported current alcohol use and 19.8% reported current marijuana use. 
  • Tobacco use.
    – Nationwide, 8.8% of high school students had smoked cigarettes and 13.2% had used an electronic vapor product on at least 1 day during the 30 days before the survey.
  • Unhealthy dietary behaviors.
    – 8% of surveyed students had obesity and 15.6% were reportedly overweight during the 30 days before the 2017 survey. 
  • Inadequate physical activity 
    – During the 30 days before the 2017 survey,  43% of students had played video or computer games or used a computer for 3 or more hours per day on an average school day for something that was not related to schoolwork.

    Because the survey collects such a wide range of data, the findings are published in a series of PDF Documents and Fact Sheets grouped by District, State, and National results. The vast majority of these reports can be greatly beneficial to schools; particularly the data on behaviors that contribute to violence on school property, suicide-related behaviors, teen pregnancy prevention, HIV and other STD prevention, and tobacco use. These reports can help school staff across departments ensure that students are getting the most out of their time at school every day, and provide guidance on how to help when there are outside factors preventing that from happening. 

According to the CDC, “this system helps 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.”(