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Healthy Youth

Frequently Asked Questions

Uses of YRBSS Results
YRBS Questionnaire Content
Validity & Reliability
Using YRBS Data Files
Conducting Your Own YRBS

Uses of Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) Results

How are the YRBSS results used?

State, territorial, and local agencies and nongovernmental organizations use YRBS 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.

CDC and other federal agencies routinely use YRBS 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 YRBS 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 it appropriate to report prevalence estimates for any of the racial/ethnic subgroups (e.g., American Indian/Alaskan Native students) asked about on the National YRBS questionnaire?

Although prevalence estimates generated for students in each racial/ethnic subgroup are representative of these students nationally, caution should be used when analyzing and interpreting these data. Because of the small numbers of students in some racial/ethnic subgroups who participate in any single National YRBS, the estimates will lack precision. Precision can be improved by combining multiple years of National YRBS data.

Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) Questionnaire Content

What is the suggested citation for the YRBS questionnaire in a publication?

The YRBS questionnaire should be cited as follows:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Available at: Accessed on [date].

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 state and local agencies that conduct a YRBS modify the core questionnaire?

Yes. State and local agencies that conduct a YRBS 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.


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.

Is parental permission obtained? What type?

Yes. Local parental permission procedures are followed prior to administration of a YRBS.

Are students required to participate in the YRBS?

No. The YRBS is always a voluntary activity for states, school districts, schools, and students.

Can my district volunteer to be in a YRBS?

Not in a YRBS supported by CDC. Any district or school may choose to conduct its own YRBS.

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, territory and local YRBS data that are weighted are representative of all public school students in grades 9-12 in the respective jurisdiction. State, territory, and local YRBS data that are not weighted are representative only of the students who completed the survey in the respective jurisdiction.

How are schools and students selected?

For the national, state, territory, 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.

Using YRBS Data Files

How are the national, state, and local YRBS data different?

National, state, territory, and local YRBS data come from separate scientific samples of schools and students. National YRBS data are not the aggregate of the state YRBS data. State, territory, and local YRBS data are not subsets of the National YRBS data set. National, state, territory, and local YRBS’s all follow the same survey methodology and use the same core questionnaire.

Does the National YRBS include schools and students from every state?

No. The national YRBS sample is designed to be representative of students in grades 9-12 in the United States overall and therefore does not necessarily include students from every state.

Where can I get the National YRBS data files?

See 2007 National Data Files and Documentation and 1991-2005 National Data Files and Documentation.

Why are results from every state not available?

Results are not available from every state because some states do not participate in the YRBS (in 2007, California, Louisiana, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington did not participate) and some states that do participate did not achieve a high enough overall response rate to receive weighted results (in 2007, Alabama, New Jersey, Nebraska, Colorado, and Oregon did participate but did not get weighted data); therefore, their results are not posted on this Web site. The 2007 YRBS Participation Map and the YRBS History of Participation & Data Quality tables provide more details on which states have conducted a YRBS and whether they obtained weighted data.

Are county level YRBS results available?

In 2007, CDC funded 22 large urban school districts to conduct a YRBS. Six of them (Miami-Dade County, FL; Broward County, FL; DeKalb County, GA; Orange County, FL; Hillsborough County, FL; and Charlotte-Mecklenburg County, NC) are county-based school districts. The other funded school districts are identified on the YRBS Participation Map and the YRBS History of Participation & Data Quality tables. County level identifiers are not available on the National YRBS data file or on state data files.

How can I get the data file for a specific state or district?

State and local data files and documentation are owned and controlled by the jurisdictions that conducted the survey. Many states and districts have given CDC permission to distribute their data files upon request. Other states and districts manage the distribution of their data files themselves. For information on acquiring data files from specific states or districts, please contact us using this form or email us directly at You may also call 1-800-CDC-INFO.

What software should I use to analyze YRBS data?

The YRBS uses a multi-stage cluster sample design. Statistical software used to analyze YRBS data should account for this design. Many packages with this capability are available. A small sample of software packages and procedures that can account for the clustered design is presented below:

SAS proc surveyfreq, proc surveymeans, and others
SPSS csdescriptives, cstabulate, and others
SUDAAN proc descript, proc crosstab, and others
Epi Info complex sample frequencies, complex sample tables, and others
For information on how to use a specific software package, please consult its documentation.

How do I use the SAS format library?

The SAS format library contains the formats used to make SAS output more readable. Formats are linked to the data so that results are displayed as words (“Male” or “Female”, for instance) instead of numbers (1 or 2). The SAS YRBS data file is designed to use its companion format library. You should download both the data file and the format library if you want to use SAS to analyze YRBS data.

The following example SAS program shows how to use the format library. It assumes that both the data file and the format library have been downloaded to “c:\data”. Note that the program contains two libname statements. The first libname statement indicates where the data file is located; the second libname statement indicates where the format library is located.

libname mydata 'c:\data'; /*  tells SAS where the data are */
libname library 'c:\data'; /*  tells SAS where the formats are */

proc freq data=mydata.yrbs2005;
       tables q2;

Using the format library is recommended but technically is optional. If you do not want to use the format library, include the following statement at the start of your SAS program:

options nofmterr; /*  tells SAS to not look for formats */

Please note that each year of YRBS data has its own format library. Format libraries are not the same across years of data.

For further information on using format libraries, please consult your SAS documentation.

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.

If I conduct a YRBS, can CDC help me scan, process, or tabulate my data?

CDC provides data processing assistance only to states, territories, and large urban school districts that it funds directly to conduct a YRBS. However, 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?

CDC has funding available for all 50 state education agencies and only a small number of territories, tribal governments, and large urban school districts during each five year funding cycle.

Documents on this page are available in Portable Document Format (PDF). Learn more about viewing and printing these documents with Acrobat Reader.

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Page last reviewed: May 8, 2008
Page last modified: September 15, 2008
Content source: National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Adolescent and School Health

Division of Adolescent and School Health
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Department of Health and Human Services