The page has been adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) Frequently Asked Questions.
Uses of the YRBSS Results
How are the YRBSS results used?
State and local agencies and nongovernmental organizations use YRBSS data to set and track 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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other federal agencies routinely use YRBSS data to assess trends in priority health risk behaviors among high school students, monitor progress toward achieving 15 Healthy People 2010 objectives and 3 leading health indicators, and evaluate the contribution of broad prevention efforts in schools and other settings toward helping the nation reduce health risk behaviors among youth.
Can student behavior changes over time be tracked using the YRBSS?
Yes. The YRBSS tracks aggregate changes in student behavior over time. See the YRBSS Trend Fact Sheets for more information.
Does the YRBSS track specific students over time?
No. Each year a new sample of schools and students is drawn. Students who participated cannot be tracked because no identifying information is collected .
Is regional, county or metropolitan level data available?
No. The YRBSS uses a complex multilevel sample of school districts, schools and classes that only represent the state as a whole. A 60% response rate overall is required to have data that is representative of more than just the individuals that filled out the survey questionnaires. When entire school districts or schools refuse to participate, it makes it difficult to meet that response rate.
Certain cities in Texas complete their own YRBSS working with the CDC. The Dallas ISD has been collecting YRBSS data since 1991 and the Houston ISD has data available biennially from 1995-2001.
What is the suggested citation for the YRBSS data in a publication?
The YRBS questionnaire should be cited as follows:
Center for Health Statistics (CHS).
Texas Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System Survey Data.
Austin, TX: Texas Department of State Health Services, CHS, [appropriate year].
Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) Questionnaire Content
What behaviors are assessed by the YRBSS?
The YRBSS assesses six categories of priority health risk behaviors – behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence; tobacco use; alcohol and other drug use; sexual behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancy and STDs, including HIV infection; unhealthy dietary behaviors; and physical inactivity – plus overweight and asthma.
Will asking questions about certain topics actually encourage certain behaviors?
There is no evidence that simply asking students about health risk behaviors will encourage them to try that behavior.
Can Texas modify the core questionnaire?
Yes. Texas can add or delete questions to meet their policy or programmatic needs. Specific guidance on the parameters that must be followed during questionnaire modification is provided to those agencies funded by CDC to conduct a YRBS. Beginning in 2011, Texas included additional questions at the request of program partners at DSHS.
How often is the YRBS done?
The YRBS is completed every other year on odd years (i.e. 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011).
How long does it take to complete a YRBS questionnaire? Does the survey include a physical test?
One class period is needed. It takes approximately 10 minutes for the survey administrator to distribute survey materials and read directions to the students. It then takes approximately 35 minutes for students to record their responses. No physical test or exam is involved.
How should the YRBS be conducted?
YRBS procedures are designed to protect student privacy by allowing for anonymous participation. Participation in the YRBS is voluntary. Local parental permission procedures are followed. Students complete the self-administered questionnaire during one class period and record their responses on a computer-scannable questionnaire booklet or separate answer sheet.
Why are students who do not take part in risky behaviors (like smoking or drinking) required repeating their response over and over again in the questionnaire?
There are two reasons. First, since this is a self administered questionnaire, simplicity is very important. A skip pattern, for example, if you answered “no” to question #5, skip to question #8, may not be followed and would lead to problems in data cleaning and validity checking. In this example, any “no” answer on question #5, that also had responses on questions 6 or 7 would be invalidated and lead to an underestimation of those who answered “no” to question #5.
The second and more important reason is so that all students are answering the same number of questions. Since the questionnaire is administered in a classroom with peers and sometimes moderated by teachers or other adults known by the students, it’s very important that the time it takes the student to complete the questionnaire do not violate their privacy or offer any information to others about their own behaviors.
Is parental permission obtained? What type?
Yes. Local parental permission procedures are followed prior to administration of a YRBS. Depending on the school or school district, permission forms may be either active or passive consent.
Are students required to participate in the YRBS?
No. The YRBS is always a voluntary activity for school districts, schools, and students. Students are also advised that they can refuse to answer any question(s) they do not feel comfortable answering.
Can my district volunteer to be in a YRBS?
Not in a YRBS supported by CDC. Those surveys use only scientifically selected samples of schools and students. Any district or school may choose to conduct its own YRBS.
Why are there no Texas data before 2001 or for 2003?
Prior to 2001, Texas did not have a high enough response rate in order to have weighted data; therefore, the estimates are only reflective of the sample and not generalizable to all high school students in Texas.
In 2003, Texas relied on data from Houston ISD, but when Houston ISD did not meet response rate criteria, they had to be excluded from the Texas sample. The data reported on the CDC website is Texas excluding Houston ISD.
Validity & Reliability
Do students tell the truth on the YRBS questionnaire?
Research indicates data of this nature may be gathered as credibly from adolescents as from adults. Internal reliability checks help identify the small percentage of students who falsify their answers. To obtain truthful answers, students must perceive the survey as important and know procedures have been developed to protect their privacy and allow for anonymous participation.
What kinds of validation or reliability studies have been done on the YRBS questionnaire?
The Methodology of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System [pdf 270K] contains a description of most of the methodological studies conducted to date on the YRBS questionnaire or YRBS data collection procedures. In addition, the list of YRBS reports and publications contains the actual journal articles describing the results of these studies.
These methodological studies include test-retest reliability studies on the 1991 and 1999 versions of the questionnaire; a study assessing the validity of self-reported height and weight; a study assessing the effect of changing the race/ethnicity question; a study examining how varying honesty appeals, question wording, and data-editing protocols affect prevalence estimates; and a study examining how varying the mode and setting of survey administration affects prevalence estimates.
What does it mean for data to be “weighted?”
Weighting is a mathematical procedure that makes data representative of the population from which it was drawn. In the YRBSS, only surveys with a scientifically drawn sample, appropriate documentation, and an overall response rate of at least 60% are weighted.
How are YRBS data weighted?
YRBS data are weighted to adjust for school and student nonresponse and to make the data representative of the population of students from which the sample was drawn. Generally, these adjustments are made by applying a weight based on student sex, grade, and race/ethnicity.
Who does the National YRBS data represent?
National YRBS data are representative of all public and private school students in grades 9-12 in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. National YRBS data are not the aggregate of the state YRBS data; the National YRBS uses a separate scientific sample of schools and students.
Who does the state and local YRBS data represent?
State and local YRBS data that are weighted are representative of all public school students in grades 9-12 in their respective jurisdiction. State and local YRBS data that are not weighted are representative only of the students who completed the survey.
How are schools and students selected?
For the national, state, and local YRBS samples, schools are selected with probability proportional to the size of student enrollment in grades 9-12 and then required classes of students (e.g., English classes) are randomly selected to participate. Within selected classes, all students are eligible to participate. See the Methodology of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System [pdf 270K] for a more detailed description of sampling procedures.
Conducting Your Own YRBS
Do I need permission to use the YRBS questionnaire for my study/area/district/school? Is there a cost?
No. The YRBS questionnaire is in the public domain and no permission is required to use it. You may download the questionnaire no charge.
Can the CDC or the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) provide answer sheets or questionnaire booklets if I conduct a local YRBS?
No, unless you are federally funded to do the YRBS. You must either print the answer sheets out on your own or have your contractor do it for you.
Will the CDC or the Texas DSHS pull my sample for me?
The CDC provides assistance only to states and large urban school districts that it funds directly to conduct a YRBS. Currently, the Texas DSHS does not have the necessary training or resources to pull your sample. It is recommended that you work with a statistician or a contractor who has direct experience with YRBS sampling.
If I conduct a YRBS, can the CDC or the Texas DSHS help me scan, process, or tabulate my data?
The CDC provides data processing assistance only to states and large urban school districts that it funds directly to conduct a YRBS. At this time, the Texas DSHS does not have the capability or staff to scan, process, or tabulate data for local YRBS activities, but may be able to provide technical assistance in some aspects of data collection. Information on how the data are processed can be found on the YRBS National Data Files and Documentation page and in the Methodology of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System [pdf 270K].
Is funding available for conducting a YRBS?
Each cycle, CDC has funding available for all 50 state education agencies and only a small number of large urban school districts. There is the possibility, though, other grants could be sought to fund this type of activity for program evaluation.
How much does it cost to conduct a YRBS?
Cost is dependent on the number of resources your local area puts into the YRBS compared to how much you contract out. Are you going to hire a statistician, consultant, epidemiologist, or contractor to conduct the YRBS for you, including sampling, recruitment, and data collection, processing, and analysis? Or will some of these steps be done in-house and others contracted?