teenagersWhile the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been surveying students in public schools since 1991 about their risky behavior the state of Georgia has recently been in the news because of the federal monies they will be losing as a result of opting out of certain questions.

The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) in 2011 was given in high schools in 47 states (Minnesota, Oregon and Washington did not participate) and in middle schools in 17 states.  According to their website their survey of middle school and high school students is to monitor “six types of health-risk behavior that contribute to the leading causes of death and disability among youth and adults.”  Those behaviors include:

  • Behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence
  • Sexual behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection
  • Alcohol and other drug use
  • Tobacco use
  • Unhealthy dietary behaviors
  • Inadequate physical activity

They also measures the prevalence of obesity and asthma among youth and young adults.

The state of Georgia looks to lose $1.8 million in HIV/AIDS education funding should they refuse to allow the questions to be asked in their schools.  Georgia has opted-out of these questions since the 1990s, and this is the first time federal funding has been attached to their response.  Louisiana, Utah and Virginia joined Georgia last year in opting out of the sexual history aspect of the survey.

New rules from the CDC require a state to include questions that ask  high school students:

  • Have you ever had sexual intercourse?
  • How old were you when you had sexual intercourse?
  • During your life, with how many people have you had sexual intercourse:
  • During the past 3 months, with how many people did you have sexual intercourse?
  • Did you drink alcohol or use drugs before you had sexual intercourse the last time?
  • The last time you had sexual intercourse did you or your partner use a condom?
  • The last time you had sexual intercourse, what one method did you or your partner use to prevent pregnancy?

The middle school questionnaire excludes the questions related to the last three months, drugs and alcohol and pregnancy prevention method.  Students are encouraged to not write their names on the questionnaire.

Iowa has participated in the survey every year since its inception in 1991, according to Stacy Hupp, spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Education.  “The survey is given only to students in grades 9-12 at a random sampling of schools, and a school’s participation is voluntary. The survey has never been given to middle school students. Parents of students in participating classrooms must be given the ability to opt out,” Hupp said.

Hupp also stated that there are optional questions related to sexual orientation and gender identification that they do not ask.  She also said the Department has no plans to opt out of the sexual risk questions that are listed above.

While this is nothing new it begs the question should students be surveyed on sexual and other risky behavior?  Should federal money be tied to states giving out these questions.  Do other states, like Iowa, require parental opt-out (preferably I’d rather see an opt-in)?  Is this something that schools should be investing time in?

As a youth worker of 20 years the aggregate data collected is certainly interesting (here are Iowa results on sexual survey questions from 2011), but frankly I don’t believe questionnaires such as this have any place in school.  They especially shouldn’t be a requirement for federal money.  Also while Iowa, at least, requires parents must be vigilante in making sure they are notified about their ability to opt out if recent news is any indication.

Here is a copy of the 2013 YRBSS High School questionnaire:


2013 Youth Risky Behavior Surveillance System High School Questionnaire


Here is a copy of the 2013 YRBSS Middle School questionnaire:


2013 Youth Risky Behavior Surveillance System Middle School Questionnaire

Photo credit: Malingering via Flickr (CC-By-NC-ND 2.0)

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