CDPHP Collaborative News - Spotlight: 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey shares successes and challenges for Alaska adolescents statewide - MAY 2020

Alaska Section of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

CDPHP Collaborative News

Alaska Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS)

More detailed Alaska YRBS results are available at: 

For more information about the Alaska YRBS, please visit:

Program Contact

Youth Resources

Tobacco &

For more information on Alaska’s strategies to prevent and reduce tobacco and e-cigarette use, please visit:

> Tobacco Prevention and Control webpage 

> “Not Buying It”
Facebook page to prevent and reduce youth e-cigarette use

Healthy Weight

For more information on strategies to help Alaska youth grow up at a healthy weight, visit:

> Physical Activity and Nutrition webpage

> Play Every Day campaign

Mental Health

If you are feeling down, in crisis, or need someone to talk to, contact the confidential Careline anytime and at no cost. Call 1-877-266-4357 or visit Careline Alaska at

Careline 877-266-4357 AK Suicide Prevention + Help Line

MAY 2020

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Spotlight on:

2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey 
shares improvements and challenges for Alaska 
adolescents statewide

Illustration of a group of high school kids talking at their lockers

Most recent survey of Alaska high school
students shows increases in e-cigarette use,
feeling sad or hopeless,
and attempted suicide

Alaska’s most recent survey of almost 2,000 high school students statewide shows a significant increase in the percentage of adolescents vaping, feeling sad and hopeless, and attempting suicide. About 1 out of 4 adolescents vaped during the past 30 days. During the past year, more than 1 out of 3 felt sad or hopeless for two weeks or longer, and 1 out of 5 attempted suicide, according to the 2019 Alaska Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) results.

Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) released the 2019 YRBS findings this week. The findings cover many health and social behaviors experienced by Alaska high school students. Some of these findings show successes, like the significant reduction in cigarette smoking. The percentage of youth who smoke fell from 18% in 2007 to 8% in 2019. Other findings warrant concern, such as mental health. Enough schools and students participated in the 2019 survey that the results are considered representative of all high school students who attended traditional public schools in Alaska.

“We are concerned that more adolescents are vaping, given that nicotine and other ingredients in e-cigarettes are harmful and addicting,” said Dr. Andrea Fenaughty, Senior Chronic Disease Epidemiologist. “We’re alarmed many adolescents are feeling sad and hopeless, and an increasing percentage have attempted suicide. We need to share these findings so everyone is aware of struggles facing Alaska’s high school students, and we need to work together to help them.” 

YRBS is conducted every other year to anonymously measure students’ behaviors

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed the YRBS, which is conducted every other year nationally and in most states. Alaska first conducted the survey in 1995. DHSS administers the survey, which is anonymous, voluntary, and conducted with parental consent. Results are used to identify emerging health concerns and changes in behaviors over time, and to inform programs aimed at improving the health of Alaska adolescents.

In 2019, DHSS surveyed 1,875 students from 39 high schools across the state. Schools were scientifically selected to represent all traditional public high schools, excluding boarding schools, alternative schools, correspondence and home schools, and correctional schools.

Increased e-cigarette use, mental health concerns

The YRBS showed that three times as many Alaska adolescents now currently use electronic vapor products like e-cigarettes as smoke combustible cigarettes. Current use means using at least once during the past 30 days. In 2019, about 8% of Alaska adolescents were currently smoking cigarettes, compared to 26% currently using e-cigarettes. That’s a significant increase from 2017, when 16% of Alaska adolescents used e-cigarettes.

Between 2007 and 2019, significantly more Alaska high school students felt sad or hopeless for two weeks or longer during the past year (27% in 2007; 38% in 2019). There were also significant increases in the percentage of students who seriously considered suicide (17% in 2007; 25% in 2019), made a suicide plan (14% in 2007; 22% in 2019), or attempted suicide (11% in 2007; 20% in 2019) during the past year.

New questions added to the 2019 survey show other serious concerns. More than 1 out of 10 adolescents (12%) experienced homelessness during the past year. Almost 1 out of 2 (49%) had access to a loaded gun. About 1 in 6 (16%) had been bullied outside of school or on the way to or from school during the past year.

Other areas that show concern or progress

The YRBS asks questions on multiple other topics: physical activity and nutrition; alcohol and drug use; injury prevention; violence; sexual behaviors; and connections with peers, adults, and community. In 2019, 15% of Alaska high school students were obese. Only 18% were physically active for the recommended 60 minutes every day during the past week. Nearly 50% drank soda, sports or energy drinks, or other sugary beverages every single day in the past week.

In 2019, 15% of students had taken prescription pain medication without a doctor’s prescription one or more times in their lives. Examples include Vicodin, OxyContin, and hydrocodone.

Marijuana became legal in Alaska for adults 21 and older in 2015. Between the YRBS surveys in 2017 and 2019, the percentage of high school students who used marijuana during the past 30 days stayed the same: 22%. Only 1 out of 5 (21%) high school students thought people greatly risk harming themselves by using marijuana once or twice a week. This is lower than the percentage of students who think there is great risk of harm in using electronic vapor products like e-cigarettes (27%), alcohol (39%), prescription pain medication (54%), and combustible cigarettes (57%). Marijuana use among youth is a concern, given that use during adolescence can lead to harmful changes in brain development, learning challenges, addiction, and mental health concerns.

While current marijuana use is holding steady, alcohol use among high school students has significantly decreased, from 40% in 2007 to 21% in 2019. About 12% of students binge drank during the past 30 days in 2019. For boys, that’s drinking 5 or more drinks of alcohol in a row. For girls, that’s 4 or more drinks in a row.

Other YRBS findings follow:

  • High school students are driving with distractions. In the past 30 days, among those who drove:
    • 37% talked on a cell phone while driving.
    • 30% texted or e-mailed while driving.
    • 12% drove when they had been using marijuana.
    • 4% drove a car when they had been drinking alcohol.
  • 19% of students were electronically bullied through texting or social media during the past year.
  • 13% of students experienced sexual violence at least once during the past year.


> Tobacco Prevention and Control Program FY2019 Annual Report 

> Factsheet: E-cigarette & vapor product use among Alaska youth 

> Alaska Chronic Disease 2020 Brief Report​

AK Diabetes Prevention and Control Program offers a FREE online Diabetes Prevention Program (sign-up online at Omada Health) and a  FREE telephonic program through InquisitHealth (text "HEALTH" to 600400) for eligible Alaska adults. 

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