April 18, 2022

Action is Needed to Stop Florida’s Withdrawal from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) provides unique and critical data that guides public health approaches to protecting and promoting the physical and mental well-being of Florida’s young people. However, the Florida Department of Education has recently withdrawn from this data collection[1] and communicated this action to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who administers the program nationwide, without public or legislative input. The YRBS is crucial because it helps monitor and address the rising mental health, substance use, and physical health problems experienced by Florida’s young adolescents and young adults. The Florida Department of Education should take immediate action to reverse this decision and continue participation in this critical public health data collection.

The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) was launched by the CDC in 1990 to monitor health risk behaviors that lead to disease, death, and social problems for youth and adults. This nationally representative system was initiated to provide data on the prevalence and co-occurrence of primary and behavioral health risk factors including unintentional injuries and violence, sexual behaviors, alcohol and drug use, tobacco use, unhealthy dietary behaviors, and inadequate physical activity.

The YRBS is the actual measure used and provides important data on how these behaviors change over time and allows description of how of sub-groups of youth are faring, including LGBTQ youth and young people of color. Data from the YRBS are widely used to develop health policies that support increasing healthy behaviors and assess progress towards race equity goals. The survey data is also used by researchers and advocates for children, youth, and young adults. Schools use it to identify needed resources to better support their students.

The national YRBS, which is conducted every other year by the CDC, is administered to youth in public (including charter schools) and private high schools.  State departments of health and education and local school districts including in Florida, also collect data.

The table above includes examples of data elements contained in the YRBS.  The YRBS also provides data on trends that underlie the urgency of attending to risk behaviors and allows for examination of data by sub-groups in order to tailor interventions and supports to those students most in need.  In the mental health domain, for example, the number of students who felt sad or hopeless continued to increase from 26.3 percent in 2009 to 33.3 percent in 2019. Females were more likely to report feeling sad or hopeless than males. Similarly, the percent of high schools students who seriously considered suicide increased from 11.6 percent in 2009 to 15.6 percent in 2019. For students who identify as gay or lesbian, the percent who seriously considered suicide was 30.8 percent in 2019. These data underscore the need for gender-specific programming as well as supports for students who identify as LGBTQ.  The data is also needed to understand the impact on the mental well-being on Black youth, who were more likely than their white counterparts to attempt suicide.

As families across the state continue to experience hardships amid the pandemic, the state’s withdrawal from the YRBS comes at a time when it is more important than ever to have data on the health and well-being of Florida’s young people. The Department of Children and Families uses YRBS data to monitor suicide preventionAnxiety has been rising during the pandemic, and suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people.  The opioid crisis continues and, indeed, has escalated during the pandemic, with opioid deaths increasing. The proposed mental health allocations in the current state budget continue the efforts to promote mental well-being in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre. The YRBS data have historically been used by schools to identify resources to support their students’ mental health.

Ending the YRBS has implications for understanding the effects of recent legislation, including HB 1557, unofficially dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Part of the power of the YRBS is that it allows for the analysis of data by sub-groups, including LGBTQ youth, so that the needs of these students, who are at a greater risk of depression, suicide, and substance abuse than their peers, are understood and can be supported by schools and community providers.

The YRBS was developed and implemented to shape public policy and support public health and ensure that youth are healthy, well, and ready to succeed.  State agencies should reconfirm their commitment and support of this great resource and window into the health and well-being of Florida’s children.



[1] In an email, the CDC informed Florida Policy Institute that “Florida’s Department of Education has elected to discontinue the cooperative agreement supporting the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) and School Health Profiles (Profiles), effective immediately [dated 4/14/2022].”

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