Sexual Identity and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12
Sexual minority youths — those who self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or unsure of their sexuality – remain underrepresented in the academic data on youth issues. Such information is crucial for schools and education systems, in particular, as they look to design and improve outreach and intervention programs to address the health needs of this population.
A 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12,” used data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) to assess the comparative risks for this group. Between 2001 and 2009, YRBSS surveyed students in grades 9 to 12 from across seven states, asking them 87 separate questions about their background and experiences.
The study’s findings include:
- The median prevalence of having seriously considered attempting suicide was 11.7% among heterosexual students; 29.6% among gay or lesbian students; and 40.3% among bisexual students. The prevalence of actually attempting suicide was roughly 20% higher for gay, lesbian and bisexual teens as compared to the median for all teens.
- The median prevalence of current alcohol use was 37.6% among heterosexual students; 47.5% among gay or lesbian students; and 55.6% among bisexual students.
- The median rate of having ever smoked cigarettes was 47.5% among heterosexual students; 70.8% among gay or lesbian students; and 71.2% among bisexual students.
- The media prevalence of having been offered, sold or given an illegal drug at school was 24.6% among heterosexual students; 40.9% among gay or lesbian students; and 37.2% among bisexual students.
- The median rate of having been forced to have sexual intercourse was 7.2% among heterosexual students; 23.7% among gay or lesbian students; and 23.3% among bisexual students.
- The median prevalence of being physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend was 10.2% among heterosexual students; 27.5% among gay or lesbian students; and 19.3% among bisexual students.
- The median rate of having been threatened or injured with a weapon on school property was 6.1% among heterosexual students; 18.5% among gay or lesbian students; and 15.5% among bisexual students.
- On average, sexual minority students showed higher risk behavior in 7 of the 10 surveyed categories (including violence, drug use and ongoing weight problems).
The study’s authors call for more “effective state and local public health and school health policies and practices … to help reduce the prevalence of health-risk behaviors and improve health outcomes among sexual minority youths.”
Tags: youth, sex crimes, drugs, gay issues, guns, tobacco
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
Read the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study "Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12."
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the issue-related ABC News story "Fifth gay teen suicide in three weeks sparks debate."
- If you were to rewrite the article based on knowledge of the study, what key changes would you make?
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.