Alcohol use impairs psychosocial and neurocognitive development and increases the vulnerability of youth to Academic failure, substance use disorders, and other mental health problems. The early onset of alcohol use in adolescents is of particular concern, forecasting substance abuse in later adolescence and adulthood. To date, evidence suggests that youth in rural areas are especially vulnerable to contextual and community factors that contribute to the early onset of alcohol use.


The objective of the Young Mountaineer Health Study is to investigate the influence of contextual and health behavior variables on the early onset of alcohol use among middle school-aged youth in resource-poor Appalachian rural communities.


This is a program of prospective cohort studies of approximately 2200 middle school youth from a range of 20 rural, small town, and small city (population <30,000) public schools in West Virginia. Students are participating in 6 waves of data collection (2 per year) over the course of middle school (sixth to eighth grades; fall and spring) from 2020 to 2023. On the basis of an organizational arrangement, which includes a team of local data collection leaders, supervising contact agents in schools, and an honest broker system to deidentify data linked via school IDs, we are able to collect novel forms of data (self-reported data, teacher-reported data, census-linked area data, and archival school records) while ensuring high rates of participation by a large majority of youth in each participating school.


In the spring of 2021, 3 waves of student survey data, 2 waves of data from teachers, and a selection of archival school records were collected. Student survey wave 1 comprised 1349 (response rate 80.7%) participants, wave 2 comprised 1649 (response rate 87%) participants, and wave 3 comprised 1909 (response rate 83.1%) participants. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the sampling frame size, resulting in a reduced number of eligible students, particularly during the fall of 2020. Nevertheless, our team structure and incentive system have proven vitally important in mitigating the potentially far greater negative impact of the pandemic on our data collection processes.


The Young Mountaineer Health Study will use a large data set to test pathways linking rural community disadvantage to alcohol misuse among early adolescents. Furthermore, the program will test hypotheses regarding contextual factors (eg, parenting practices and neighborhood collective efficacy) that protect youth from community disadvantage and explore alcohol antecedents in the onset of nicotine, marijuana, and other drug use. Data collection efforts have been successful despite interruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021.

International registered report identifier (irrid):



Appalachia; Young Mountaineer Health Study; adolescence; alcohol use; caffeine; middle school; prevention.

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Risk and Resilience Pathways, Community Adversity, Decision-making, and Alcohol Use Among Appalachian Adolescents: Protocol for the Longitudinal Young Mountaineer Health Study Cohort

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