At A Glance

Noteworthy Characteristics

  • School administrator surveys of high school characteristics for this cohort.
  • Provides basic information about diet, physical activity, sleep, and body mass index.
  • First round of the survey included a parent questionnaire that obtained information about the youths' family background and history, including parent and child health and participation in government assistance programs.



To collect data about demographics, health, the transition from school to work, and life/work trajectories for individuals who were ages 12 to 17 years and residing in the United States (U.S.) in 1997.

Target Population

Noninstitutionalized individuals who were born in the years 1980 to 1984 and resided in the U.S. when the survey began in 1997.


Began in 1997. Conducted annually. Most recent year available is 2015-2016.


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor

Special Note(s)

In 1996 and again in 2000, surveys were conducted of all schools with a 12th grade in the statistical sampling areas in which NLSY97 respondents reside. The surveys gathered information about the characteristics of each school, the staff, and the student body. Learn more about the NLSY97 school surveys.

See also: National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79) and National Longitudinal Survey of Youth-Children and Young Adults (NLSY79ch).


Sample Design

Longitudinal survey. Stratified, multistage probability sampling was used to generate two independent samples: the main, nationally representative sample and an oversample of Blacks and Hispanics. Learn more about the sampling design.

Sample Size

Approximately 9,000 youths who were ages 12 to 17 years in 1997.

Special Note(s)

The NLSY97 cohort was selected in two phases. In the first phase, a list of housing units for the cross-sectional sample and the oversample was derived from two independently selected, stratified multistage area probability samples. This ensured an accurate representation of different sections of the population defined by race, income, region, and other factors. In the second phase, subsamples of the eligible persons identified in the first phase were selected for interview.

Key Variables


NameMethods of Assessment
AgeInterview/questionnaire (parent/caregiver)
Food program participationInterview/questionnaire (parent/caregiver)
Household income and assets*Interview/questionnaire (parent/caregiver)
Income*Interview/questionnaire (parent/caregiver)
Race/ethnicityInterview/questionnaire (parent/caregiver)
SexInterview/questionnaire (parent/caregiver)


NameMethods of Assessment
Family meal practices**Interview/questionnaire
Frequency of eating breakfast**Interview/questionnaire
Frequency of fruit and vegetable consumption each dayInterview/questionnaire
Frequency of fruit and vegetable consumption each week*Interview/questionnaire
Participation in national school lunch and breakfast programs (reduced-price and free)**Interview/questionnaire (school administrator)

Physical Activity-Related

NameMethods of Assessment
Frequency of exercise each weekSelf report
Neighborhood safetySelf report
Sedentary behavior (hours per week of TV viewing and computer use)Self report


NameMethods of Assessment
Daytime fatigue/sleepiness and/or alertnessInterview/Questionnaire
Schedule-related sleep environment: Adolescent work schedule/ school scheduleInterview/Questionnaire
Sleep continuity: Sleep latencyInterview/Questionnaire
Sleep disturbances and quality: Trouble falling back asleep at nightInterview/Questionnaire
Sleep disturbances and quality: Waking up too earlyInterview/Questionnaire
Sleep disturbances and quality: Other (list variable)Interview/Questionnaire
Sleep duration and quantity: Total sleep time during weekends/holidaysInterview/Questionnaire
Sleep duration and quantity: Total sleep time during workdays/schooldaysInterview/Questionnaire
Social sleep environment: Other (type of residence)Interview/Questionnaire


NameMethods of Assessment
Efforts to gain or lose weightInterview/questionnaire
Height and weightSelf report
Perception about weightInterview/questionnaire


NameMethods of Assessment
County, state, metropolitan statistical area, zip code, and census tractN/A

Special Note(s)

* Parent-reported income is available annually in a household roster survey that was completed until the youth reached age 18 years. After that age, the youth reported income.

**These variables were collected only in the initial survey in 1997. A survey of the parents of the cohort members was conducted only in 1997.

Data Access and Cost

Data Availability

Obtain public-use data, questionnaires, and other documentation online by using the NLS Web Investigator.


Free of charge.

Special Note(s)

Contact the Bureau of Labor Statistics to obtain access to restricted-use data (i.e., geocoded data files).


Geocode Variable(s)

Researchers can request access to variables on county, state, and metropolitan statistical area and use the data at the facilities of their own institutions by completing an application. Learn more

Researchers can request access to variables on zip code and census tract and detailed characteristics of high schools and use those variables at the BLS data enclave in Washington, DC. Learn more about the process required to obtain these variables.

Existing Linkages

None found.

Selected Publications


The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a searchable bibliography of all known research examining data from the NLSY97 and the other BLS National Longitudinal Surveys.


Ewing R, Brownson RC, Berrigan D. Relationship between urban sprawl and weight of United States youth. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2006;31(6):464-474.

Nonnemaker JM, Morgan-Lopez AA, Pais JM, Finkelstein EA. Youth BMI trajectories: Evidence from the NLSY97. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2009;17(6):1274-1280.

Powell LM. Fast food costs and adolescent Body Mass Index: Evidence from panel data. Journal of Health Economics 2009;28(5):963-970.

Sen B. Frequency of family dinner and adolescent body weight status: Evidence from the national longitudinal survey of youth, 1997. Obesity 2006;14(12):2266-2276.


Fosse NE, Haas SA. Validity and stability of self-reported health among adolescents in a longitudinal, nationally representative survey. Pediatrics 2009;123(3):e496-501.