Key Points

In 2005, the MetroWest Health Foundation launched a 10-year initiative to conduct the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey biennially with every high school and middle school student in the foundation’s 25-town region. The survey asks students about substance use, violence, sexual behaviors, mental health, and nutrition.

In the first year of the initiative, about two-thirds of public high schools and half of the middle schools in the region participated. By 2012, every public high school and middle school participated. Encompassing some 40,000 students, the survey is considered to be one of largest, if not the largest, regional census of risky behavior among youth in the country.

Schools and communities use the data to change school and law enforcement policies, implement new curriculum, educate parents, expand time for school wellness programs, and secure federal grants. The foundation has used the data to measure the impact of its substance abuse and antibullying initiatives as well as to develop new funding programs, such as adolescent mental health.

The foundation's research partner, Education Development Center, was asked to share the data with New York City, which used the data to demonstrate that increasing the minimum age to purchase tobacco is associated with reduced rates of tobacco use among youth.

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