Understanding Risk Factors

A risk factor is a condition that increases the likelihood of a problem behavior or negative health outcome. Let’s use the example: What are the risk factors for heart problems? Poor diet, smoking, family history of heart problems, sedentary lifestyle, high cholesterol, and so on. All of these things can increase our risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure. The more risk factors you have, the higher likelihood you are to have problems.

This same idea can be applied to prevention science. When you reduce risk of youth problem behaviors, you reduce youth problem behaviors. The problem behaviors that are commonly studied in prevention are youth substance use, juvenile delinquency, school drop out, teen pregnancy, and youth violence. Each of these negative health outcomes have risks. Youth who have certain risk factors are not guaranteed to have negative health outcomes, it just increases their likelihood of having problems.

What we know about youth risk factors:

  1. Youth are influenced by every domain they grow up in: Family, community, school and friends.
  2. These risk are present across all developmental phases.
  3. Predict multiple problems.
  4. Operate in a similar way across all racial groups and region of the country.

Even though all communities are different and unique, the science of prevention applies to everyone. Because every community is unique, it’s so important to find your own communities risk factors.

The Communities That Care prevention planning system focuses on building positive youth development by addressing risk and protective factors that are predictive of youth problem behaviors.

Below are documents of youth risk and protective factors with their definitions. These charts were developed by the University of Washington’s Communities That Care Program.

Risk factors for teen substance misuse
Risk factors for teen substance misuse
Risk factors for teen substance misuse
Risk factors for teen substance misuse

Guest post by: Kim Lefler

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