Wednesday, March 12, 2008

BS is its middle name


The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey.
It's a mouthful and a truck load.

My freshman daughter came home from high school the other day and said, "Mom! I had to take this really stupid survey today about drugs and sex and suicide and stuff" (this is the way she speaks, I didn't homeschool her early or long enough). Anyway, I was more than a little curious because I have always exempted my children (she has an older brother who survived high school) from these "health surveys". I received the letter stating that “if you do not want your child to participate, you should call the school nurse" today - 2 days after the survey was administered. I decided to do some research. Here is what I found at the CDC website:

In 1987, CDC developed a program to provide fiscal and technical assistance to state* and local education agencies for effective human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevention programs for youth. Since 1992, CDC has funded education agencies to also provide additional broad-based programs, often referred to as coordinated school health programs. The effectiveness of these programs is partially determined by their ability to positively influence behaviors that increase the risk for HIV infection and that are associated with the leading causes of death and disability among youth and adults in the United States. The advent of these programs underscored the need for quality and comprehensive data regarding the health-risk behaviors of youth. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, HIV prevention programs and coordinated school health programs frequently were developed without empirical information regarding 1) the prevalence of key behaviors that most influence health and 2) how those behaviors were distributed among subgroups of students.

But that wasn't enough. As soon as the public lost interest in the HIV pandemic, the CDC reformulated their survey:

In addition to considering the amount of support from sites for the proposed revisions, CDC considered multiple factors in making final decisions regarding the questionnaire, including 1) input from the original reviewers, 2) whether the question measured a health-risk behavior practiced by youth, 3) whether data on the topic were available from other sources, 4) the relationship of the behavior to the leading causes of morbidity and mortality among youth and adults, and 5) whether effective interventions existed that could be used to modify the behavior. As a result of this process, CDC created the 1999 YRBS questionnaire by adding 16 new questions, deleting 11 questions, and making substantial wording changes to 14 questions. For example, two questions that assess self-reported height and weight were added in recognition of increasing concerns regarding obesity. As a result, YRBSS now includes national, state, and local estimates of body mass index (BMI) calculated from self-reported data.

If you, like me, questioned the accuracy of the results, don't worry, the CDC has that covered too:

In 2000, CDC also conducted a study to assess the validity of the two YRBS questions regarding self-reported height and weight (19). In that study, 2,965 high school students completed the 1999 version of the YRBS questionnaire on two occasions approximately 2 weeks apart. After completing the questionnaire, the students were weighed and had their height measured. Self-reported height, weight, and BMI calculated from these values were substantially reliable, but on average, students in the study overreported their height by 2.7 inches and underreported their weight by 3.5 pounds, which indicates that YRBSS probably underestimates the prevalence of overweight in adolescent populations.

So not only do the questions change to reflect the sexy health issues of the times, the CDC is able to extrapolate the information in order to tweak the intensity of any particular problem.

The reason that any of this matters is the purpose of these surveys. They are used by the CDC, state and local governments to "set school health and health promotion program goals, support modification of school health curricula or other programs, support new legislation and policies that promote health, and seek funding for new initiatives."

In other words, the veracity of high schoolers, filling in little dots on a non-academic test which talks about sex, drugs, and partying has become the funnel for directing tax dollars and government windfalls from tobacco companies.

Click here is you want to read the 112 page whole enchilada report (but don’t eat it)!

If you only want to know how many obese and potentially obese kids are in your state, because they've got that too, click here.

In two years, click here to find out about the prevalence of selfish, anti-altrustic thoughts of the kids in your state and the multi-million dollar programs proposed to combat this abomination.

Parents need not apply.

Update: In fairness to the school, the letter sent two days later was for yet another survey from which I was able to exempt my daughter and get a big fat "Do Not Survey" red post-it on her file, no doubt! :) I was informed that I must have missed the other passive agreement form sent out in January. :(

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