Last month, the Wyoming House of Representatives killed an amendment that would have reinstated a national youth survey here in Wyoming. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) provides …
Last month, the Wyoming House of Representatives killed an amendment that would have reinstated a national youth survey here in Wyoming. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) provides valuable information on behaviors regarding nutrition and physical activity, alcohol and tobacco use, safety, violence, suicide and other risk-taking behaviors. Wyoming participated in this survey for 25 years beginning in 1991, using findings from the survey to improve the lives of children and families in Wyoming.
Our state’s participation in the survey came to a halt in 2016. Wyoming’s Legislature decided, as it did again this session in the House, that survey questions on sexual health, after being asked for 25 years, were no longer appropriate for the young people in our state. We strongly disagree with the decision of the House.
Wyoming’s communities are feeling the impact of teen suicides; e-cigarette use by teens is a new issue; and the Wyoming Department of Health is reporting an increase of sexually transmitted diseases among teens. For years, we were able to gain insight and implement programming and policy because YRBS data informed us about the challenges Wyoming teens faced.
Yes, the survey asks important questions about sexual health — nine, in fact. It also asks 80 other questions on a variety of other topics including bullying, eating habits and screen time. The variety of questions provides a clearer and bigger picture of Wyoming’s youth and the choices they make.
Also important is the wide range of groups who have relied on and benefited from this data to make informed decisions. From afterschool programs working with youth, to schools and communities addressing local challenges that impact kids in their area, the survey was the go-to resource.
Past legislative bodies had used the data to support and guide their own informed decision-making: between 1991 and 2015, data from the YRBS guided the development of bills or policies in Wyoming.
State agencies such as the Department of Health, Department of Family Services, and the Department of Education, to name only a few, used the data to apply for grants, to develop programs, and to measure changes in youth behaviors.
Even the Department of Transportation utilized the data for Gov. Matt Mead’s Council on Impaired Driving which implemented an initiative in 2011 “to reduce alcohol-impaired fatalities and crashes, along with changing behavior with regard to drinking and driving.” The initiative utilized YRBS data to assess youths’ attitudes and behaviors about drinking and driving. Yet, by 2016, YRBS data was no longer available to help gauge the impact of state efforts on youth’s behaviors toward drinking and driving.
As of 2017 (the survey is typically completed in odd-numbered years and data released the following even-numbered year), Wyoming was one of only four states that did not participate in the high school survey: Oregon, Washington, Minnesota and Wyoming. Our lack of involvement means we are unable to use data to see how we compare nationally or how well we are caring for our children here at home.
Just as it was for 25 years, if Wyoming chose to reinstate the YRBS, schools would not be mandated to participate, although many do because they recognize the value of the data collected. Furthermore, students will have — as they ALWAYS have had — the option to opt-out of answering any of the survey questions; and parents will have as they ALWAYS have had the option of opting their children out taking the entire survey.
We know that Wyoming’s Legislature cares about our children. Reinstituting the YRBS will help all of Wyoming do best for our kids. The survey is available for anyone to see, and we encourage you to take a look at it: www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/2019/2019_YRBS-Standard-HS- Questionnaire.pdf
Wyoming KIDS Count Partner
Rob H. Johnston,
Wyoming Health Council
Phyllis Simpson Sherard,
Cheyenne Regional Medical Center
Wyoming Women’s Foundation
Wyoming Kids First
Wyoming Afterschool Alliance
Wyoming Public Health Association