• risk behaviors;
  • child and adolescent health;
  • children with disabilities


Background:  This study explores the relationship between self-reported physical disabilities or long-term health problems and health risk behaviors or adverse health conditions (self-reported engagement in violent behaviors, attempted suicide, cigarette smoking, alcohol and other drug use, sexual activity, physical activity, dietary behaviors, self-reported overweight [based on height and weight], physical health, and mental health) among US high school students.

Methods:  Data were from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2005 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a cross-sectional paper-and-pencil survey collected from a representative sample of public and private high school students (grades 9 through 12) in the United States.

Results:  Significantly more students with physical disabilities or long-term health problems than without described their health as fair or poor and reported being in a physical fight, being forced to have sexual intercourse, feeling sad or hopeless, seriously considering and attempting suicide, cigarette smoking, using alcohol and marijuana, engaging in sexual activity, using computers 3 or more hours per day, and being overweight (for all, p ≤ .05). For none of the health risk behaviors analyzed were the rates significantly lower among students with physical disabilities or long-term health problems than among other students.

Conclusions:  Young people who live with physical disabilities or long-term health problems may be at greater risk for poor health outcomes. Public health and school health programs, with guidance from health care providers, need to work with these adolescents and their families to develop and implement appropriate interventions, with particular emphasis on promoting mental health.