Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A cross-sectional examination of modifiable risk factors for chronic disease among a nationally representative sample of youth: are Canadian students graduating high school with a failing grade for health?

Scott T Leatherdale1* and Vicki Rynard2

Author Affiliations

1 School of Public Health and Health Systems, University of Waterloo, 200 University Avenue, Waterloo ON, N2L 3G1, Canada

2 Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, University of Waterloo, 200 University Avenue, Waterloo ON, N2L 3G1, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:569  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-569

Published: 11 June 2013



Substance use and weight gain among youth increase the risk for future disease. As such, the purpose of this study is to examine how many Canadian youth are currently failing to meet substance use and weight gain related public health guidelines.


Data from the 2010–11 Youth Smoking Survey were used to examine grade 9 to 12 students meeting seven different guidelines by sex and by grade.


Among Canadian youth, 8.8% were current smokers, 18.8% were current marijuana users, 25.5% were current binge drinkers, 22.5% were considered overweight or obese, 31.2% did not meet physical activity guidelines, 89.4% exceeded sedentary behaviour guidelines, and 93.6% reported inadequate fruit and vegetable intake. The mean number of risk factors per student was 2.9 (±1.2); only 0.5% of youth reported having none of the risk factors.


Students rarely met all seven public health guideline examined, and the vast majority of actually reported having two or more modifiable risk factors for disease.

Obesity; Physical activity; Tobacco; Alcohol; Marijuana; Diet; Youth