Can government policies help adolescents avoid risky behavior?

Prev Med. 2005 Feb;40(2):197-202. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2004.05.021.


Background: This study examines the extent to which policies influence participation of adolescents in alcohol and tobacco consumption and in unsafe sex.

Methods: Data were obtained from the 1995 Youth Risk Behavior Surveys (YRBS) conducted by 20 different states and cities in the U.S. These data were combined with state data on cigarette taxes, vending machine laws, beer taxes, and family planning clinic availability. A model of teenage risk taking suggested that the three risk behaviors were codetermined by a common latent risk-taking propensity. We used a structural equation model (SEM) accounting for this shared latent propensity to estimate the extent of participation in terms of frequency of smoking, drinking, and the number of sex partners.

Results: Estimating simultaneous equations for all three risk behaviors was statistically more efficient than equation-by-equation estimates of each behavior. Estimates indicated significant deterrent effects of beer taxes, vending machine restrictions, and increased density of family planning clinics on teenage risk behavior.

Conclusions: State policies, such as taxes on beer, and restrictions on location of cigarette vending machines, and placement of family planning clinics influence adolescents' behavior. Because there is interrelationship between these behaviors, systems estimators, can offer improved estimates of these effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Humans
  • Public Policy*
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Smoking
  • United States
  • Unsafe Sex