Problem/condition: Alternative high schools serve approximately 280,000 students nationwide who are at high risk for failing or dropping out of regular high school or who have been expelled from regular high school because of illegal activity or behavioral problems. Such settings provide important opportunities for delivering health promotion education and services to these youth and young adults. However, before this survey, the prevalence of health-risk behaviors among students attending alternative high schools nationwide was unknown.
Reporting period: February-May 1998.
Description of system: The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) monitors the following six categories of priority health-risk behaviors among youth and young adults: behaviors that contribute to unintentional and intentional injuries; tobacco use; alcohol and other drug use; sexual behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) (including human immunodeficiency virus [HIV] infection); unhealthy dietary behaviors; and physical inactivity. The national Alternative High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey (ALT-YRBS) is one component of the YRBSS; it was conducted in 1998 to measure priority health-risk behaviors among students at alternative high schools. The 1998 ALT-YRBS used a three-stage cluster sample design to produce a nationally representative sample of students in grades 9-12 in the United States who attend alternative high schools. The school response rate was 81.0%, and the student response rate was 81.9%, resulting in an overall response rate of 66.3%. This report summarizes results from the 1998 ALT-YRBS.
Results and interpretation: In the United States, 73.6% of all deaths among youth and young adults aged 10-24 years results from only four causes--motor vehicle crashes, other unintentional injuries, homicide, and suicide. Results from the 1998 ALT-YRBS demonstrate that many students at alternative high schools engage in behaviors that increase their likelihood of death from these four causes. During the 30 days preceding the survey, 51.9% had ridden with a driver who had been drinking alcohol, 25.1% had driven a vehicle after drinking alcohol, 32.9% had carried a weapon, 64.5% had drunk alcohol, and 53.0% had used marijuana. During the 12 months preceding the survey, 15.7% had attempted suicide, and 29.0% had rarely or never worn a seat belt. Substantial morbidity among school-aged youth and young adults also results from unintended pregnancies and STDs, including HIV infection. ALT-YRBS results indicate that in 1998, a total of 87.8% of students at alternative high schools had had sexual intercourse, 54.1% of sexually active students had not used a condom at last sexual intercourse, and 5.7% had ever injected an illegal drug. Among adults aged > or =25 years, 66.5% of all deaths result from two causes--cardiovascular disease and cancer. Most risk behaviors associated with these causes of death are initiated during adolescence. In 1998, a total of 64.1% of students at alternative high schools had smoked cigarettes during the 30 days preceding the survey, 38.3% had smoked a cigar during the 30 days preceding the survey, 71.2% had not eaten > or =5 servings of fruits and vegetables during the day preceding the survey, and 81.0% had not attended physical education (PE) class daily. Comparing ALT-YRBS results with 1997 national YRBS results demonstrates that the prevalence of most risk behaviors is higher among students attending alternative high schools compared with students at regular high schools. Some risk behaviors are more common among certain sex and racial/ethnic subgroups of students.
Public health action: ALT-YRBS data can be used nationwide by health and education officials to improve policies and programs designed to reduce risk behaviors associated with the leading causes of morbidity and mortality among students attending alternative high schools.