2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey Reveals Increase in Current Use of Marijuana and Alcohol

News Release


For Immediate Release: May 30, 2018

Media Contact:
Vermont Department of Health

2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey Reveals Increase in Current Use of Marijuana and Alcohol
Data reveals persistent health disparities among young Vermonters based on race, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity

BURLINGTON – New data from the 2017 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) shows that, on average, Vermont middle school and high school students are more likely to have tried electronic vapor products like e-cigarettes in 2017 compared to 2015, increasing from 7% to 9% for middle schoolers and from 30% to 34% for high schoolers. While the number of high school students who have ever used marijuana has been stable over the last two years (37%), the number of students who currently use marijuana has increased from 22% to 24%. Compared to 2015, more high school students report ever drinking alcohol (56% vs. 58%), as well as drinking in the last 30 days (30% vs. 33%).

The YRBS is administered at Vermont schools every other year to students in grades six through 12. It details the prevalence of a wide range of behaviors, perceptions and protective factors that affect health, like substance use, physical activity and nutrition, community and family connectedness, sexual and physical violence, sexual activity, and mental health. The survey is conducted by the Vermont Department of Health in partnership with the Agency of Education. The 2017 survey gathered information from 20,653 high school students and 13,887 middle school students from 69 high schools and 122 middle schools, representing 76% of all high school students and 83% of all middle school students in Vermont.

“While some statewide trends are troubling, there is much for Vermont to be proud of in this data,” said Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD. “Over the past decade, cigarette smoking among all students has decreased 50%, bringing the percentage of students who smoke down to 9%, surpassing the Healthy Vermonters 2020 goal of 10%.”

Other compelling data shows that, on average, Vermont students are becoming more connected to their communities.

“64% of middle school students and 61% of high school students said they believe they matter to people in their community, and that’s up significantly from 2015,” said Dr. Levine. “This tells us that we’re starting to make progress, and need to continue to make sure that young people feel that their voices are heard and valued.”

A deeper dive reveals disparities among different demographic groups of Vermont students.

“What especially concerns me is that in so much of the data – from feeling safe at school to substance use to attempting suicide – for both middle and high school students there are glaring disparities between students of color and white, non-Hispanic students, and between lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students and straight or cisgender students,” said Dr. Levine.

High school students of color are significantly more likely to make a suicide plan (15% vs. 10%) and attempt suicide (8% vs. 5%). They are also more than twice as likely as white, non-Hispanic students to be threatened with a weapon on school property (9% vs. 4%).

The 2017 survey introduced a new question about sexual orientation on the middle school survey, and a question about gender identity was added to the high school survey.

LGBT high school students are more than four times as likely (33% vs. 8%) as heterosexual or cisgender students to make suicide plans and to attempt suicide (18% vs. 4%). They are nearly three times more likely (58% vs. 21%) than heterosexual or cisgender students to feel sad or hopeless, and significantly more likely to be threatened or injured with a weapon on school property (10% vs. 4%).

Compared to heterosexual middle school students, LGB middle school students are more than three times as likely to report skipping school in the last 30 days because they felt unsafe. And one in 10 female middle school students skipped school in the last 30 days, significantly more than male students.

“Our health is determined by much more than the choices we make, and that is no different for young people in Vermont,” said Dr. Levine. “Differences in health based on race, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation are products of broader social, economic and environmental inequities that come from historical injustices and other systemic inequalities that unfortunately continue to shape the world around us.”

“The Health Department is committed to working with our partners to confront and rectify these inequities so that everyone in Vermont has a fair and just opportunity to be healthy,” said Dr. Levine.


The full 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey Report, Executive Summary and previous years’ data are available at: www.healthvermont.gov/YRBS


For health news, alerts and information, visit healthvermont.gov

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