Many U.S. schools closed nationwide in March 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19. School closures and online-only instruction have negatively affected certain students, with studies showing adverse effects of the pandemic on mental health. However, little is known about other experiences such as economic and food insecurity and abuse by a parent, as well as risk behaviors such as alcohol and drug use among youths across the United States during the pandemic. To address this gap, CDC developed the one-time, online Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey (ABES), which was conducted during January–June 2021 to assess student behaviors and experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic among high school students, including unintentional injury, violence, tobacco product use, sexual behaviors, and dietary behaviors. This overview report of the ABES MMWR Supplement describes the ABES methodology, including the student questionnaire and administration, sampling, data collection, weighting, and analysis.
ABES used a stratified, three-stage cluster probability-based sampling approach to obtain a nationally representative sample of students in grades 9–12 attending public and private schools. Teachers of selected classes provided students with access to the anonymous online survey while following local consent procedures. Data were collected using a 110-item questionnaire during January–June 2021 in 128 schools. A total of 7,998 students submitted surveys, and 7,705 of these surveys had valid data (i.e., ≥20 questions answered). The school response rate was 38%, the student response rate was 48%, and the overall response rate was 18%. Information on mode of instruction and school-provided equipment was also collected from all sampled schools.
This overview report provides student- and school-level characteristics obtained from descriptive analyses, and the other reports in the ABES MMWR Supplement include information on substance use, mental health and suicidality, perceived racism, and disruptions to student life among high school students. Findings from ABES during the COVID-19 pandemic can help guide parents, teachers, school administrators, community leaders, clinicians, and public health officials in decision-making for student support and school health programs.