Data shows growing health challenges faced by Utah youth

Parents and schools play a key role in supporting well-being

Salt Lake City—Data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show growing health concerns facing America’s youth. 

“Young people are faced with varying pressures to use substances, and must navigate a complex digital world all while maintaining their mental health and well being. Data like this helps us understand what’s happening to cause these issues, identify and address specific risk factors, and develop interventions that help families and youth feel supported, safe, and able to thrive,” said Heidi Duston, prevention administrator with the Utah Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Nationally, youth are struggling with thoughts of suicide; interpersonal violence such as bullying, dating violence, and sexual assault; and aren’t meeting daily recommendations for eating fruits and vegetables, eating breakfast, or engaging in physical activity. 

Utah youth face similar challenges. In 2021, Utah-specific YRBSS showed:

Health habits

  • More youth are watching TV or playing video games than ever before. The percentage of youth who watched TV or played video games for more than 2 hours a day increased from a low of 14.9% in 2013 to a high of 55.5% in 2021.
  • Only 23.5% of youth got 8 or more hours of sleep on an average school night. 
  • Only 21.7% of youth met the recommended 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day.  
  • 47% of youth text while driving.

Mental health and suicide

  • 41.5% of youth felt sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more. This is a significant increase from 33% in 2017.
  • The percentage of youth who seriously considered attempting suicide remained steady since 2017. Similar to previous years, statistically more female students and gay, lesbian, and bisexual students considered suicide than their male or heterosexual peers.


  • The percentage of youth who were hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend dropped from a high of 12.6% in 2007 to a low of 6.1% in 2021.
  • 20.6% of youth were verbally or emotionally harmed by someone they were dating or going out with.
  • 7.7% of youth were physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to.

“No other survey or data source gives us data at the community level of what youth are facing and the things that help protect them from harmful behaviors and health problems—because the information comes from youth themselves,” said Anna Fondario, director of the DHHS Office of Health Promotion and Prevention.

The YRBSS is conducted every other year in high schools (grades 9-12) across the country. In Utah, the YRBSS is one of two survey instruments students may receive as part of the Student Health and Risk Prevention (SHARP) survey; the other survey instrument is called the Prevention Needs Assessment (PNA). The PNA survey provides additional information—particularly with substance use—that is not collected in the YRBSS. The Utah SHARP survey has been administered for 20 years. It’s a voluntary survey and both parents and students must give consent to participate. Data from the 2023 survey is expected to be publicly available next spring.

“While we tend to focus on the negatives with the data, we know that building strong and healthy families, schools, and communities protects youth from many of these challenges,” said Dutson. “Youth consistently report parents have a big impact on their decisions to engage in high risk behavior. We also know protective factors like eating meals as a family, feeling connected to your family and school community, and having opportunities to contribute in meaningful ways prevent many of these harmful outcomes.” 

Data from the YRBSS and SHARP survey has been used to:

  • Educate parents about the harms of social media on youth.
  • Expand access to mental health services and resources.
  • Create the Parents Empowered campaign which encourages parents to talk to their children about the dangers of underage drinking.
  • Develop the SafeUT mobile app and Live On suicide prevention campaign.
  • Pair kids struggling with school with the Foster Grandparents Program in a local community to help build connections and resilience. 
  • Pass legislation that restricts the places flavored vaping products that appeal to children can be sold.

Utah YRBSS data can be explored by visiting the Indicator-Based Information System for Public Health or IBIS-PH website. Data from the Utah PNA survey can be found on the Utah Student Health and Risk Prevention website or by downloading the Utah Adolescent Health report. To learn more about the national YRBSS data, visit the CDC Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System website