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Research Summary

Ethnicity, Gender, and Clustered Risk Behaviors in Adolescents

In addition to alcohol use, a number of other risk behaviors (e.g., drug use, fighting) are common among adolescents and can cause substantial health consequences. To examine possible interrelationships between these risk behaviors (e.g., co-occurrence), researchers analyzed data from a population-based national sample of 3183 African American and European American adolescents who had been surveyed annually for 4 years until age 18.

Using "latent class models" to characterize health risk behaviors, researchers found several patterns:

  • Two percent of the sample had all risk behaviors (marijuana use, early sexual initiation, alcohol use, smoking, fighting, and truancy) while 27% had none.
  • African American men were more likely—while African American women were less likely—than others to be in the risk group with the highest prevalence of all risk behaviors (18% of African American men, 11% of European American men, 9% of European American women, and 5% of African American women).
  • African Americans were very likely to be in a risk group with a higher prevalence of early sexual initiation and a lower prevalence of substance use. The opposite was true for European Americans.


This study suggests that risk behaviors often cluster together in adolescents, and that specific patterns may differ by ethnicity. When one risk behavior is identified, clinicians should be open to finding and addressing other risk behaviors.

Richard Saitz, MD, MPH


Weden MM, Zabin LS. Gender and ethnic differences in the co-occurrence of adolescent risk behaviors. Ethnicity and Health. 2005;10(3):213-234.