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2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey Results Released Today

Zaza 2012 photo (1)

Stephanie Zaza, MD, MPH

Results from the 2013 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) were released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This survey is conducted every two years among a nationally representative sample of high school students. More than 13,000 U.S. high school students participated in the most recent national survey. Participation was voluntary and responses were anonymous. The 2013 YRBS Report includes the National YRBS data, as well as data from surveys conducted in 42 states and 21 large urban school districts.

Included in the National YRBS and most state and large urban school districts surveys are questions about sexual risk behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection. The data released today show that fewer high school students have ever had sexual intercourse (54 percent in 1991 compared to 47 percent in 2013). In addition, fewer students are currently sexually active – meaning that they had sexual intercourse during the three months prior to taking the survey (38 percent in 1991 compared to 34 percent in 2013).

For those students who are currently sexually active, fewer used a condom the last time they had sexual intercourse – 63 percent in 2003 compared to 59 percent in 2013. This trend leaves more students vulnerable to HIV, STDs, and unintended pregnancy.

In addition to sexual risk behaviors, the survey monitors five other categories of priority health-risk behaviors that contribute markedly to the leading causes of death, disability, and social problems among youth and adults in the United States, including

  • Unintentional injuries and violence,
  • Tobacco use,
  • Alcohol and other drug use,
  • Unhealthy dietary behaviors, and
  • Physical inactivity.

What do we know about these other risk behaviors from the 2013 National YRBS?

  • Cigarette smoking among high school students is at its lowest level since the survey began in 1991. At 15.7 percent, the U.S. has met its national Healthy People 2020 objective of reducing adolescent cigarette use to 16 percent or less. Nevertheless, reducing overall tobacco use is still a challenge.
  • Physical fighting among youth is less prevalent. Only 25 percent of high school students were in a physical fight at least once during the past year versus 43 percent of students in 1991.
  • Texting or emailing while driving continues to put youth at risk. Nationwide, 41 percent of students texted or emailed while driving a car or other vehicle during the past 30 days.

We know that students who report risk behaviors in one area frequently report higher rates of risk behaviors in other areas, e.g., alcohol and drug use and unprotected sex. The YRBS thus serves as a platform for all parts of CDC and the public health community to explore specific teen risk behaviors and the relationships between them. YRBS data are used by CDC and others to

  • Measure progress toward achieving 20 national health objectives for Healthy People 2020 and other program and policy indicators.
  • Assess trends in priority health-risk behaviors among high school students.
  • Evaluate the impact of broad school and community interventions at the national, state, and local levels. Set and monitor progress toward meeting school health and health promotion program goals.
  • Support modification of school health curricula or other programs.
  • Support new legislation and policies that promote health and seek funding and other support for new initiatives.

The 2013 YRBS results indicate that adolescents are making healthier and safer choices in some areas. However, there are numerous areas where improvements can be made and so much more we need to learn about the factors that contribute to high-risk behaviors and negative health choices. Continued collaboration with schools, communities, families, and students are essential to identify, understand, and take action to reduce youth risk behaviors that are still too prevalent.

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