Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.


Office of the State Superintendent of Education

DC Agency Top Menu

-A +A
Bookmark and Share

OSSE Releases 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey Results

Thursday, November 2, 2023

(Washington, DC) - The 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) released today by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) show mixed results for DC public and public charter middle and high school students, compared to the 2019 survey. While categories such as substance use, alcohol consumption and early sexual activity show overall decreases among DC students over two years, the 2021 YRBS, which was conducted while COVID-19 was still very present, also highlights concerning trends that clearly indicate DC students continue to struggle with mental and emotional health.

“We care deeply about the physical and mental health of all students in the District of Columbia and have made significant investments to provide students supports to be successful in school and life," said State Superintendent Dr. Christina Grant. “Data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey help us determine where to focus our efforts to ensure our students can thrive.”

DC school leaders and educators can use these analyses to inform current professional development needs, drive student intervention efforts, and guide investments in student supports.

Results from the 2021 YRBS show overall substance use—including cigarette and cigar smoking, use of electronic vapor products, and marijuana use—among high school students is down from 2019. Alcohol consumption has decreased steadily since 2007 among middle and high school youth. Sexual activity has also decreased among middle and high school students—most notably, data demonstrate a significant reduction in sexually active middle school students, with a decrease from 29 percent to 7 percent between 2007 and 2021, respectively.

This cycle, the DC YRBS questionnaire included several new questions to better understand student mental health, the impact of parent or guardian job loss during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the rate of students’ witnessing of violence in their communities.

The biennial YRBS evaluated a representative sample from 11,567 high school students at 38 DC public and public charter high schools and 11,783 middle school students at 70 DC public and public charter middle schools in fall 2021. YRBS data are compared to results from 2007, 2012, 2015, 2017 and 2019 to show trends over time.

The survey covers the following risk behavior categories, which coincide with DC’s Health Education Standards’ categories: Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs; Mental and Emotional Health; Nutrition and Physical Activity; Disease Prevention/Sexual Health; and Violence and Safety. The report notes significant differences within subgroups of the DC youth population (e.g., sex, grade, race/ethnicity) for various health behaviors and describes behaviors that have undergone significant changes since the YRBS was first administered.

OSSE will use the data collected through the YRBS to target trainings for all District teachers, staff and principals at public and public charter schools on how to identify and refer students with behavioral health needs. Data also will be used for public awareness campaigns and training parents, family members, teachers, school personnel and peers on how to assist youth facing mental health challenges or crises. OSSE is strategically partnering with various agencies and organizations to address the issues reflected in the report.

Read the full 2021 DC YRBS report as well as reports from past years on OSSE’s website.