Background: Children with disabilities may be at increased risk for engaging in health risk behaviors compared to their peers without disabilities.
Objective: This secondary analysis aims to assess if Individualized Education Program (IEP) status, a proxy for having a disability, is a risk factor for youth to engage in health risk behaviors such as alcohol use, marijuana use, other substance use, bullying or cyberbullying victimization, and sexual activity.
Methods: Data from Connecticut Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2019 were combined for a representative sample of 9243 students, 850 reporting having an IEP. Having a disability was measured by an item that asked if participants received special education services as part of an IEP. Logistic regression that accounted for the YRBSS sample design was used to assess main effects.
Results: Having an IEP significantly predicted the likelihood of being bullied (OR = 1.81), cyberbullied (OR = 1.49), and other drug use (OR = 1.65), but did not predict engaging in sexual activity.
Conclusions: Students with disabilities in CT, as defined by the receipt of special education services as specified on an IEP, are at increased risk to engage in health risk behaviors than are students without disabilities during their high school years. Further analyses and comparisons across sites, years, and type of disability are limited as there is no current item on the national YRBSS questionnaire that measures a participant's special education status or disability status.
Keywords: Disability status; Health risk behavior; Health surveillance data; Special education; Youth.
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