Using YRBS Data in #Healthed

When looking for a ‘hook’ to get students engaged in health class I have found that using Youth Risk Behavior Survey data one of the most effective ways to engage students. When discussing sensitive topics such as relationship safety, bullying, stress & anxiety, depression & suicide, substance use and sexual activity, the ability to provide students with accurate data reflecting the behavior of their peers allows me to focus their attention and my teaching.

Check out the podcast I recorded with Charlie Rizzuto on this topic.

Students are more interested in a topic when they have a personal connection to the material. Although I could use the excellent CDC data, I am fortunate to work in a school that conducts a YRBS every two years. Once the data has been ‘cleaned’ by an external statistician we have information on the behaviors of over 3000 students that can be cross referenced by a large number of sub-groups.

Using our YRBS data to challenge perceptions is one of the most effective uses of these stats. A great lesson starter might be “What percentage of students at school do you think drank alcohol in the past 30 days?”. After a group discussion students report back their answers. These answers are based on their own behavior, that of their peers, and what they have observed and heard from their friends. Once the disparity is revealed between perception and reality we can then ask the question “How do perceptions shape behavior?”

Our use of data allows students to make health related decisions based on evidence.


We have an outstanding group of faculty at school that administer our social norms campaign. Color posters, referred to as “Tinkle Times” are displayed around the school, in classrooms and bathrooms raising awareness of the health behavior being targeted that year. Teachers are given materials to allow them to have conversations with students, challenge perceptions and explain social norms. This allows the health message to be reinforced by different adults within the building and makes my job as a health ed teacher a little easier.


Because our YRBS is repeated every two years we are able to provide our students with the most up to date information. Can you imagine a textbook being able to provide information that relates so closely to our students? We can also track changes in student risk behavior (hopefully for the better). Consider the following and you’ll appreciate how these figures improve my curriculum:

Students reporting cigarette use in the past 30 days

Nationally – 27.5%    Illinois – 14.1%    Our School – 12%

If I was using national data, I might think that cigarette use was an issue among all students and yet that isn’t necessarily the case at our school. I also know that cigarette use has fallen significantly at our school over the past 10 years. Perhaps this is due to the efforts made by faculty.

Social Work Groups

We can shape our curriculum and educational campaigns based upon the specific needs of our students. The support groups provided at school also benefit from the YRBS data. Our freshman and sophomore health units, in  part, reflect the behavioral choices being made by students of that age.

iBook YRBS

Access to our YRBS data in a graphical format allows me to add those images into the iBooks that I create for class. Throw in a few live links, some pop-up widgets and a link to great TED Talk and I guarantee my students will spend more time looking through the material than they would using an old textbook.

My goal in health is to encourage my students to become more health literate and in turn make healthy choices. I also encourage them to advocate for those that are less healthy than themselves. This semester I will be using YRBS data to show my classes what are the biggest health concerns affecting the school community. They will then choose to advocate for one of those areas, speaking with friends, family and peers, aiming to raise awareness and challenge perception. Providing my students with YRBS data specific to their peers will allow them to educate, advocate and lobby, mobilize, target and build allies, create strategies before implementing their ideas to make our school community a healthier, happier and safer environment.


The original version of this blog post appeared on a blog that I share with Andy Horne.

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