Assessing and Quantifying High Risk: Comparing Risky Behaviors by Youth in an Urban, Disadvantaged Community with Nationally Representative Youth

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Objective: This study examined whether youth who live in an urban, disadvantaged community are significantly more likely than youth representing the nation to engage in a range of health-compromising behaviors.

Methods: Analyses were based on the Youth Violence Survey conducted in 2004 and administered to students (n=4131) in a high-risk school district. Students in ninth grade (n=1114) were compared with ninth-grade students in the 2003 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey (n=3674) and the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health conducted in 1995/1996 (n=3523). Analyses assessed the differences in prevalence of risk and protective factors among ninth-grade students from the three studies using Chi-square tests.

Results: The results showed that youth in this urban, disadvantaged community were significantly more likely than their peers across the country to report vandalism, theft, violence, and selling drugs. Youth in this community also reported significantly less support from their homes and schools, and less monitoring by their parents. Moreover, youth in this community were significantly less likely to binge drink or initiate alcohol use prior to age 13 than youth across the U.S.

Conclusions: Youth who live in this urban, disadvantaged community reported significantly higher prevalence of some, but not all, risky behaviors than nationally representative U.S. youth. These findings highlight that some caution is justified when defining what might constitute high risk and that demographic and other characteristics need to be carefully considered when targeting certain high-risk behaviors.