Year after year, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) results highlight the needs and strengths of our students and help us as school health professionals hone and refine our work to support their success. In particular, the YRBSS analysis and recommendations highlight which student populations have higher prevalence of risk behaviors–from smoking and tobacco use, to sexual risk behaviors and violence–and what we can do to better identify these students, tailor services, and promote their success at an individual and school level.
The 2015 YRBSS results are posted on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and highlight the prevalence of many risk behaviors. One particular analysis looked at gay, lesbian, and bisexual students as well as students who reported having sexual contact with only the same sex or both sexes. Compared to heterosexual students, these students had a higher prevalence of many (though not all):
- violence-related risk behaviors,
- tobacco use-related risk behaviors,
- alcohol or drug use-related risk behaviors, and
- sexual risk behaviors.
What this analysis highlights though is what we as school health staff can do to promote health behaviors and work with students to reduce risk behaviors. CDC policy and practice recommendations include:
- Establishing clear anti-bullying policies
- Creating on-campus “safe spaces“
- Developing and encouraging student groups like “gay/straight alliances”
- Including information on sexual minorities (using inclusive words and terms) in health curriculum and materials
- Provide professional development for staff around sexual minorities and creating safe, supportive school environments (did you join us for our session at the 2016 Annual School-Based Health Retreat?)
- Improve access to health services and providers experienced in serving sexual minorities
- Provide information and skill-building opportunities for parents to learn how to support sexual minority youth
What are your schools doing to support sexual minority students? Tell us how this report has influenced your perspective or work at your school.