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Youth Risk Behavior Survey for Middle School Adolescents

March 13, 2001

A study in the January issue of the Journal of School Health presents data from the 1997 Youth Risk Behavior Survey -- Middle School (YRBS-M).

The YRBS-M was originally developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Division of Adolescent and School Health in 1995 for use with students in grades 6, 7, and 8.

The YRBS-M measures the prevalence of six categories of health-risk behaviors: unintended injury and violence, dietary behavior, and physical activity among middle school students. Since it was developed, few education agencies have implemented the middle school survey.

This article reports on data collected from 1,783 students in 19 middle schools in a large majority-minority school district during the spring of 1997.



Sexual Behavior

  • 13% of students reported ever having had sexual intercourse (10% of sixth graders, 13% of seventh graders, and 17% of eighth graders).

  • 46% of sexually active students reported having had sexual intercourse with three or more partners (44% of sixth graders, 43% of seventh graders, and 46% of eighth graders).

  • 62% of sexually active students reported using a condom at last sexual intercourse (61% of sixth graders, 58% of seventh graders, and 66% of eighth graders).

  • 25% of sexually active students reported having had a sexually transmitted disease (33% of sixth graders, 23% of seventh graders, and 20% of eighth graders).

  • 31% of sexually active students reported drinking alcohol or using drugs before last sexual intercourse (26% of sixth graders, 38% of seventh graders, and 28% of eighth graders).

Alcohol/Drug Use

  • 50% of students reported ever drinking alcohol (34% of sixth graders, 55% of seventh graders, and 61% of eighth graders).

  • 18% of students reported ever smoking marijuana (9% of sixth graders, 19% of seventh graders, and 25% of eighth graders).

  • 15% of students reported sniffing glue or other inhalants (15% of sixth graders, 18% of seventh graders, and 13% of eighth graders).

Tobacco Use

  • 37% of students reported ever trying cigarettes (26% of sixth graders, 37% of seventh graders, and 47% of eighth graders).


  • 24% of students reported ever seriously thinking of killing themselves (21% of sixth graders, 25% of seventh graders, and 27% of eighth graders).

  • 16% of students reported feeling sad and depressed 10 or more days in the month prior to the survey (12% of sixth graders, 17% of seventh graders, and 19% of eighth graders).


  • 53% of students reported having been in a physical fight in the year prior to the survey (57% of sixth graders, 55% of seventh graders, and 48% of eighth graders).

  • 12% of students reported ever carrying a gun (9% of sixth graders, 13% of seventh graders, and 13% of eighth graders).

The survey results confirm that middle school students are engaging in health-risk behaviors that could lead to short-term and long-term consequences related to educational achievement and overall health and wellness. Study findings also indicate that young adolescents are initiating patterns of behavior earlier and, in most cases, before they are developmentally ready to deal with potential outcomes.

The authors note that although 62% of sexually active middle school students in this survey used a condom the last time they had sexual intercourse, it is difficult to determine if the condoms were used correctly and consistently.

The authors recommend that local education agencies should explore administering the YRBS-M on a regular basis. Monitoring prevalence and trends of health-risk behaviors among middle school students, as well as the age of initiation of particular behaviors, will support development and/or expansion of health education and coordinated school health programs.

Finally the authors recommend that focus group interviews should be conducted with students in each grade level to elicit in-depth information about their motivations for engaging in health-risk behaviors. This information could help researchers determine predisposing, reinforcing, and enabling factors at home, in school, and in the community. In addition, information gleaned from these discussions could be used to design coordinated school health programs to better address the needs of middle school students.

For more information: J. V. Fetro, et al., "Health-Risk Behaviors Among Middle School Students in a Large Majority-Minority School District," Journal of School Health, 71 (1), pp. 30-7.


  • HIV/STD Prevention in Rural Communities: Sharing Successful Strategies II, sponsored by the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention, is scheduled for April 20-22 in Indianapolis, IN.

    The goal of the conference is to present model HIV/STD prevention-education programs utilized in various rural settings throughout the United States. The conference will present strategies for building partnerships for prevention-education programs and for using technology in such programs in rural areas.

    The conference will feature plenary speakers and oral presentations by prevention specialists. All presentations will focus on prevention-intervention programs for at-risk, underserved rural populations.

    There is no registration fee for the first 225 participants who reserve lodging at University Place and the first 25 participants who do not take lodging at University Place.

    All others must pay $25 registration fee.

    For more information:

    Indiana University Conference
    P.O. Box 249, Bloomington, IN 47405
    Phone: 800/933-9330
    Fax: 812/855-8077
    Web site:


  • The Impact of Adolescent Pregnancy and Parenthood on Educational Achievement: A Blueprint for Education Policymakers' Involvement in Prevention Efforts is a recent publication from the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE). It was developed with support from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH).

    This publication is an issue brief that reviews the consequences of teenage pregnancy, research-based prevention strategies, and specific action steps that state and local boards of education can take to bolster school health programs. In addition, it explores factors that positively and negatively affect the sexual behaviors of youth.

    This resource will help the education community simultaneously reduce adolescent parenthood and promote student achievement.

    Copies are $7 plus shipping and handling.

    For more information:

    277 South Washington Street, Suite 100
    Alexandria, VA 22314
    Phone: 800/220-5183
    Fax: 703/836-2313
    Web site:

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This article was provided by Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. It is a part of the publication SHOP Talk: School Health Opportunities and Progress Bulletin.
See Also
More Statistics on Young People and HIV/AIDS in the U.S.