Youth Risk Behavior Survey

Funded by Emerson Health as part of its Community Benefits Program, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) helps us understand the health issues experienced by public school students in our region. It is coordinated by Market Street Research in Northampton, Mass., and has been conducted every two years since 1997.

Emerson’s YRBS is a survey of students in 6th grade, 8th grade, and high school. Ten public school districts participated in the March 2022 survey, totaling 7,722 students. The following school districts distributed the survey to their students: Acton-Boxborough, Ayer-Shirley, Bedford, Carlisle, Concord and Concord-Carlisle High School, Groton-Dunstable, Harvard, Littleton, Maynard, and Nashoba Regional.


Emerson’s 2022 YRBS revealed some key insights about student behavior, including the following. Please note that these results reflect aggregate survey responses. You may contact your school system directly to see the results from your specific school.

  • Students in all grades are experiencing higher rates of depression than pre-pandemic rates.
  • The use of e-cigarettes, marijuana, and alcohol decreased among students in all grades.
  • Students reported more stress due to events and pressure at home, and less stress due to the pandemic.
  • Students who identify as LBGTQ+ and those in minority racial groups are more likely to engage in risky behavior.
  • Students in all grades reported more sexual harassment and suicide attempts.
  • Students report higher rates of bullying and self-harm in sixth grade than in other grades.
  • Students in all grades reported a decrease in sending explicit text messages and photos.

The findings help school administrators establish health promotion goals aimed to reduce students’ risky behavior, create updated school curricula, and inform Emerson Health’s community health needs assessment.

Since Emerson began the YRBS 25 years ago, school districts have used the data to address mental health in a variety of ways. Over the years, some schools established peer groups to support students with anxiety and depression. Others created affinity groups, including those for LGBTQ+ youth and programs to support youth of different racial backgrounds.

A Note About Survey Questions

The survey questions were thoughtfully selected by school leaders and the professional research team based on the objectives to measure existing health risks and identify emerging trends. Leadership at each school district reviewed and approved the questions before students took the survey. The schools informed parents about the survey in advance. Parents were invited to preview all questions by requesting a link to the survey, and could choose to have their child(ren) opt out of the survey.

If you have any questions about your school district’s YRBS, or would like to see the results from a specific school, please contact your school administration office directly or email

Thank you to all the school districts and students who participated in the 2022 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

Impact of the Pandemic on Youth Risk Behavior

In March 2021, Acton-Boxborough, Groton-Dunstable and Maynard school districts collaborated with Emerson Hospital to understand the social and behavioral impacts of COVID-19. Nearly 2,500 students from these three districts completed the COVID Response Survey either from home (if accessing school virtually) or at school (if attending in-person). The questionnaire covered most of the topics included in the 2020 YRBS along with new items specifically about students’ perspectives on how the pandemic has affected them.