Problem: Priority health-risk behaviors, which are behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of morbidity and mortality among youth and adults, often are established during childhood and adolescence, extend into adulthood, and are interrelated and preventable.
Reporting period covered: September 2010-December 2011.
Description of the system: The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) monitors six categories of priority health-risk behaviors among youth and young adults: 1) behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence; 2) tobacco use; 3) alcohol and other drug use; 4) sexual behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection; 5) unhealthy dietary behaviors; and 6) physical inactivity. In addition, YRBSS monitors the prevalence of obesity and asthma. YRBSS includes a national school-based Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) conducted by CDC and state and large urban school district school-based YRBSs conducted by state and local education and health agencies. This report summarizes results from the 2011 national survey, 43 state surveys, and 21 large urban school district surveys conducted among students in grades 9-12.
Results: Results from the 2011 national YRBS indicated that many high school students are engaged in priority health-risk behaviors associated with the leading causes of death among persons aged 10-24 years in the United States. During the 30 days before the survey, 32.8% of high school students nationwide had texted or e-mailed while driving, 38.7% had drunk alcohol, and 23.1% had used marijuana. During the 12 months before the survey, 32.8% of students had been in a physical fight, 20.1% had ever been bullied on school property, and 7.8% had attempted suicide. Many high school students nationwide are engaged in sexual risk behaviors associated with unintended pregnancies and STDs, including HIV infection. Nearly half (47.4%) of students had ever had sexual intercourse, 33.7% had had sexual intercourse during the 3 months before the survey (i.e., currently sexually active), and 15.3% had had sexual intercourse with four or more people during their life. Among currently sexually active students, 60.2% had used a condom during their last sexual intercourse. Results from the 2011 national YRBS also indicate many high school students are engaged in behaviors associated with the leading causes of death among adults aged ≥ 25 years in the United States. During the 30 days before the survey, 18.1% of high school students had smoked cigarettes and 7.7% had used smokeless tobacco. During the 7 days before the survey, 4.8% of high school students had not eaten fruit or drunk 100% fruit juices and 5.7% had not eaten vegetables. Nearly one-third (31.1%) had played video or computer games for 3 or more hours on an average school day.
Interpretation: Since 1991, the prevalence of many priority health-risk behaviors among high school students nationwide has decreased. However, many high school students continue to engage in behaviors that place them at risk for the leading causes of morbidity and mortality. Variations were observed in many health-risk behaviors by sex, race/ethnicity, and grade. The prevalence of some health-risk behaviors varied substantially among states and large urban school districts.
Public health action: YRBS data are used to measure progress toward achieving 20 national health objectives for Healthy People 2020 and one of the 26 leading health indicators; to assess trends in priority health-risk behaviors among high school students; and to evaluate the impact of broad school and community interventions at the national, state, and local levels. More effective school health programs and other policy and programmatic interventions are needed to reduce risk and improve health outcomes among youth.