Years Available
1990 to present (biennially since 1991)
Mode of Collection
Sample survey: self-administered questionnaire.
The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) monitors health behaviors that contribute markedly to the leading causes of death, disability, and social problems among youth in the United States. The YRBSS includes national, state, territorial, tribal government, and local school-based surveys of representative samples of 9th through 12th grade students. These surveys are conducted every two years, usually during the spring semester. The national survey, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), provides data representative of 9th through 12th grade students in public and private schools in the United States. The state, territorial, tribal government, and local surveys, conducted by departments of health and education, provide data representative of public high school students in each jurisdiction.
Selected Content
Data are collected on tobacco use, dietary behaviors, physical activity, alcohol and other drug use, sexual behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancy and STDs, and behaviors that contribute to unintentional injury and violence.
Population Covered
High school students in public and private schools in the United States.
A three-stage cluster sample design is used to produce a nationally representative sample of students in grades 9-12 attending public and private high schools. The first-stage sampling frame of primary sampling units (PSUs) are stratified based on degree of urbanization and relative percentage of black and Hispanic students in the PSU. The PSUs are selected from these strata with probability proportional to school enrollment size. At the second stage of sampling, schools are selected with probability proportional to school enrollment. At the third stage, one or two intact classes of a required subject from each of grades 9 to 12 are chosen at each school. All students in the selected classes are eligible to participate in the survey. Survey procedures are designed to protect student privacy by allowing for anonymous and voluntary participation. Students complete the self-administered questionnaire during one class period and record their responses directly in a computer-scannable booklet or on a computer-scannable answer sheet. Responses are weighted for nonresponse and probability of selection.
Response Rates and Sample Size
For the 2019 national YRBS, 13,677 questionnaires were completed in 136 schools. The school response rate was 75%, the student response rate was 80%, and the overall response rate was 60%.
Interpretation Issues
The extent of underreporting or overreporting of behaviors cannot be determined, although the survey questions demonstrate good test-retest reliability. YRBSS data apply only to adolescents who attend regular high school. These students may not be representative of all persons in this age group because those who have dropped out of high school or attend alternative schools are not surveyed. Some estimates of substance abuse for youth based on the YRBSS differ from those produced by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) and Monitoring the Future (MTF). Rates are not comparable because of differences in populations covered, sample design, questionnaires, and interview setting.
Kann L, McManus T, Harris WA, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance – United States, 2017. MMWR Surveil Summ 2018;67 (No. 8):1-479.