HKCS Overview
high school students

Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS) Overview

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Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS) Overview

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance (YRBS) System to monitor risk behaviors among youth. Since 2001, Boulder County YRBS survey results have measured how many youths engage in health-risk behaviors and how many practice health-promoting behaviors.

In 2013, to strengthen the YRBS in Colorado, the Colorado Departments of Education, Public Health and Environment, and Health and Human Services undertook and funded a statewide, unified survey initiative – the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS).

Survey results are used to create school and community programs to reduce youth risk behaviors and to encourage health, safety, and academic achievement.

HKCS Quick Facts

  • The survey is administered in odd-numbered years.
  • The survey is administered to a random sample of 7th – 12th grade Boulder Valley School District classrooms.
  • The survey is designed to be completed in one regular classroom period. It does not include a physical test or exam.
  • Student participation is anonymous. Results are reported by school district and county only.
  • Students opted-out by their parents or guardians are assigned an alternate educational activity within the same classroom.
  • Input from all students in sampled classrooms helps produce an accurate picture of youth behavior in our community.
  • The survey is confidential and voluntary and asks students about their health behaviors.

Purpose of the HKCS survey

HKCS survey results help measure the number of youth engaging in health-risk behaviors and the number practicing health-promoting behaviors. The survey results are used to create school and community programs to encourage health and safety and reduce risk behaviors.

Participant selection

If you have received a letter, your student is enrolled in a classroom randomly selected to participate on a particular date and during a specific class period selected by school leadership. A fraction of classrooms are surveyed in just one class period at each school.

Who can take the survey?

Every other year, a new sample of students is picked. Students randomly selected in multiple years cannot be tracked because their names are not collected on the survey.

Time to complete the survey

The HKCS survey is designed to be completed in one regular classroom period.

Physical exam

The HKCS survey does not include a physical test or exam.

Types of survey questions

The HKCS survey focuses on health-related behaviors that often begin during childhood and adolescence. The questions pertain to personal safety, unintentional injuries, violence, tobacco use, alcohol and other drug use, sexual behavior, physical activity, body weight, social interaction and support, and other health-related topics. All questions are related to national health objectives.

Sensitive questions

The survey includes sensitive questions that are asked directly. Violence, harassment, attempted suicide, tobacco use, carrying of weapons, sexual behaviors, and alcohol and other drug use are sensitive issues that are included in the survey. To help solve health problems among our youth, we must first understand them. For instance, teen pregnancy is a significant health risk. Sexual intercourse increases the risk of getting pregnant. The only way to learn about youth risk for pregnancy is to ask direct questions about this behavior, such as the age of first intercourse, use of drugs or alcohol before sex, and use of methods to prevent pregnancy.

Exposure to questions not related to subsequent behavior

A common concern is whether youth who are exposed to survey questions that ask about health-related behaviors, such as drug use or sexual behavior, show increases in these behaviors. Researchers have not found any evidence that questionnaire completion affects behavior. This holds even when the survey is given repeatedly. Additionally, trend data show that the prevalence of many health-related behaviors (including sexual behaviors, tobacco use, and many violence-related behaviors) has declined since 1991, even though many students nationwide have taken surveys about health-related behaviors.

Students who do not engage in risky behaviors

Many students in many schools are healthy, which is why we need their input to positively impact the data collected. To have an accurate picture of the health-related behaviors of students in our community, we need all students in sampled classrooms to participate, even if some students do not practice these behaviors. To ensure we develop programs that will be most beneficial, we must understand what kids are doing, rather than speculate about the prevalence of these behaviors.


Evidence tells us that kids do tell the truth on the HKCS. The survey environment, questionnaire design, and administration procedures help make students comfortable and most likely to tell the truth. Further, the Boulder County HKCS results are consistent with other results from other surveys and data, indicating that youth are telling the truth.


The HKCS survey has been designed to protect your student’s privacy. Students do not put their names on the survey, nor are they assigned identification numbers. When students finish the survey, they place them in a box or large envelope, immediately sent to a third-party research company for scanning. No school officials, teachers, or other students have the opportunity to review any responses. Results are never reported at the individual or classroom level.


Students can choose to refuse to take or complete the HKCS survey at any point. Survey administrators are trained about how to communicate this choice to students to eliminate any fears they may have about not participating. Additionally, parents can decline their students’ participation by following the instructions in the parent letter they received from school. That said, high participation means that the results are generalizable to the whole district, which makes the HKCS a strong source of data for evidence-based programming. Students who opted out of the survey participate in an alternate educational activity guided by the teacher.

Survey support

The HKCS survey is supported by many state and local organizations, as well as national organizations, that are interested in the health of our youth. People from over 100 state and local health and education agencies and 19 federal agencies helped to develop the survey.

Availability of survey

The 2001 through 2019 surveys and results are available online or call 303-441-1530.

Contact Us

Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS)

Main: 303-441-1530

Submit a question


3450 Broadway
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Hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Boulder County Public Health website