Original article| Volume 45, ISSUE 3, P253-261, September 2009

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Risky Behaviors in Late Adolescence: Co-occurrence, Predictors, and Consequences



      Advances in research have broadened our understanding of the risky behaviors that significantly threaten adolescent health and well-being. Advances include: using person-centered, rather than behavior-centered approaches to examine how behaviors co-occur; greater focus on how environmental factors, such as family, or peer-level characteristics, influence behavior; and examination of how behaviors affect well-being in young adulthood. Use of nationally representative, longitudinal data would expand research on these critical relationships.


      Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1997 cohort, a nationally representative sample of adolescents who are being followed over time, the present study: (1) identifies profiles of risky behaviors, (2) investigates how environmental characteristics predict these profiles of risky behaviors (e.g., delinquency, smoking, drug use, drinking, sexual behavior, and exercise), and (3) examines how these profiles of risky behaviors relate to positive and negative youth outcomes.


      Four “risk profiles” were identified: a high-risk group (those who report high levels of participation in numerous behaviors), a low-risk group (those who engage in very few risky behaviors), and two moderate risk-taking groups. We found that profiles with any negative behaviors were predictive of negative outcomes.


      It is important for practitioners to examine health behaviors in multiple domains concurrently rather than individually in isolation. Interventions and research should not simply target adolescents engaging in high levels of risky behavior but also adolescents who are engaging in lower levels of risky behavior.


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