Reflecting on the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey

Reflecting on the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey

On February 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released their Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) report. Based on data collected every two years, this survey provides insight into key health behaviors and experiences that impact students’ wellbeing. Where available, the CDC includes 4-year and 10-year trend data. The report includes topics such as sexual behavior, substance use, violent experiences, poor mental health and suicidality. 

This report is particularly noteworthy because its data was collected in fall of 2021, making it the first such report to include data related to the mental health impact of Covid-19. It also includes trends showing concerning data when it comes particularly to the wellness and safety of our female students as well as that of LGBTQ+ students. 

In this blog, we will provide an overview of the CDC’s findings. Follow us on social media to stay up to date on upcoming posts addressing key topics from this report. 

Sexual Behavior

While the percentage of students who are sexually active has decreased over the last ten years—from 49% and 46% for male and female students, respectively, to 29% and 31%there has concerningly also been a decrease in condom use. Further, two-year trend data shows a decrease in testing for STDs, including HIV.  

Substance Use

Ten-year trend data shows current alcohol use has decreased by nearly 16% for the total students group. While this positive trend data is reflected through all subgroups, the percentage of female students who currently drink alcohol is 12% higher than their male counterparts.  

Similarly, ten-year trend data suggests fewer students overall are using marijuana, with a 13% decrease. This decrease is reflected in all subgroups—however, 18% of female students are currently using marijuana, compared to 14% of their male counterparts.  

Illicit Drugs 
While ten-year trend data shows a nearly 7% decrease in overall illicit drug use, female students are showing a concerning increase in their use when compared to 2019.  

Misused Prescription Opioids 
Four-year trend data shows a small decrease overall in student misuse of prescription opioids, though female students’ use as a subgroup remains unchanged. There was also an increase in use among black and Asian students.  

Experiencing Violence

Threatened or Injured with a Weapon at School in the Past Year 
Ten-year data shows that male students who were threatened or injured with a weapon at school decreased from 10% to 7%. However, the percentage of female students who reported such an experience increased by 1%.  

Did Not Go to School Because of Safety Concerns in Past 30 Days 
The percentage of students overall who missed school due to safety concerns increased by 3% over the last 10 years. For female students, that increase is greater, with 10% of female students reporting missing school out of fear for their safety—a 4% increase from 2011.  

Black, Hispanic, and white students indicated greater increases in safety concerns—with black students showing a 5% increase—while Asian and multiracial students’ percentages remain unchanged from 2011. 

Were Electronically Bullied During the Past Year 
Cyberbullying remains a constant concern for students, with all subgroups showing a steady presence of online bullying in their lives for the past ten years. Female students are nearly twice as likely as their male counterparts to report experiencing cyberbullying, and white and multiracial student subgroups (19% and 17%, respectively) are more likely than their Asian, black, or Hispanic counterparts to report being bullied online.  

Looking at the 2021 data alone, American Indian or Alaska Native students were the most likely to report having been cyberbullied at 21%.  

Bullied at School 
Female students were also more likely to be bullied at school than male students, though ten-year trend data shows a decrease in bullying for both of these subgroups. Similar trends can be seen in the race and ethnicity subgroups.  

Had Ever Been Forced to Have Sex 
14% of female students reported having been raped—a 2% increase from 2011 and a 10% disparity when compared to male students. In 2021, 20% of LGBQ+ students were forced to have sex. 

Experienced Sexual Violence by Anyone 
This category includes kissing, touching, or being physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to during the past year. Four-year data shows a 3% increase in the female student subgroup and 2021 data shows a 13% disparity over their male counterparts. In 2021, 22% of LGBQ+ students experienced sexual violence. 

Mental Health and Suicidality

Experienced Persistent Feelings of Sadness or Hopelessness During the Past Year 
The ten-year trend data paints a deeply concerning picture. Male students who experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased by 8%, while female students increased by 21%. This significant increase is seen across all race and ethnicity subgroups, and LGBQ+ students were much more likely than their peers to experience persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.  

Seriously Considered Attempting Suicide During the Past Year 
The percentage of students who seriously considered suicide increased by 6% over the last ten years, and it increased by 11% for female students. We see similar increases in the black, Hispanic, and white subgroups.  

Made a Suicide Plan 
In 2021, 24% of female students and 37% of LGBQ+ students made a suicide plan in the preceding year. Ten-year trend data shows this to be a 9% increase for female students.  

Attempted Suicide 
Female students are nearly twice as likely to attempt suicide as their male counterparts according to 2021 data, and the percentage of LGBQ+ students who attempted suicide more than doubles that of the overall student group. Black and white student subgroups both show an increase in suicide attempts, while Hispanic and multiracial remain unchanged and Asian students who attempted suicide decreased. 

3% of total students made a suicide plan that resulted in an injury, poisoning, or overdose that had to be treated by a doctor or nurse during the past year.  

Responding to the CDC’s report

According to the CDC, school connectedness helps decrease student risks related to substance use, mental health, violence, and sexual behavior, and students who have parents or other familial adults who know where they are going or who they will be with all or most of the time are at decreased risk for sexual behavior, substance use, experiences of violence, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. 

Further, experiencing unstable housing increases a student’s risk of experience violence, substance use, and poor mental health.  

Identifying when a student faces increased risk factors and intervening early is key to providing them with the support and resources they need to better manage a crisis they may otherwise be ill-equipped to handle.  

Early intervention software like Raptor StudentSafe can help. Empowering your staff with the ability to document low-grade concerns—like changes in a student’s attitude, behavior, or cleanliness that leaves the teacher concerned about their wellbeing—provides your guidance counselors with the insight they need to reach out to a student in need.  

Schedule a demo to learn more.  

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