Frequently asked questions

Why is this survey important? What difference will it make?

The major aim of the COMPASS project is to help provide the healthiest school environments possible for Canadian secondary school students. To accomplish this, COMPASS will:

  • measure a wide variety of youth health behaviours as students progress through high school, and
  • measure the school environment during this time.

This will allow us to see which particular school policies, programs, and resources actually result in healthier Canadian youth. This is the first time this has been done in the history of Canada, and internationally.

Participating schools will receive their survey results in the form of a School Health Profile. This report will help identify potential health issues at the school and suggest ways to improve overall student health. To help schools take action, COMPASS will link schools with existing stakeholders in public health and work with them to provide students with the healthiest environment possible.

COMPASS results will help government and public health officials identify areas of concern and emerging trends in youth health. The end-goal is to develop new programs and policies that will make a positive difference.

Healthy kids tend to do better academically than less healthy kids. To that end, COMPASS aims to promote the long-term success of Canadian youth.

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How can schools use the results?

The COMPASS project aims to inform schools about what policies, programs, and resources are effective in promoting healthy lifestyles for Canadian youth. The School Health Profile is meant to inform the school whether its existing programs and policies are supporting healthy students, and whether any changes to policies and programs translate into changes in student health.

Schools will be linked with existing public health stakeholders who can help the school transform information from the School Health Profile into action. We also encourage schools to be creative when making use of their School Health Profile. In addition to using the results as a teaching tool and to inform school policy, some examples of how schools can use the feedback include:

  • Using the data to create anti-tobacco campaigns.
  • Principals, vice-principals, and teachers can talk to students about the impact of health behaviours.
  • Using results in health units/courses and at health fairs where displays are available to students and parents.
  • Sharing the results with school councils, parent councils, and superintendents.
  • Condensing the results into monthly school newsletters that are sent to families.
  • Sharing the results with the school's public health nurse and the school's health action team.

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What kinds of questions does COMPASS ask? Are you allowed to ask these kinds of questions?

The COMPASS survey addresses physical activity, healthy eating, sedentary behaviour, tobacco use, alcohol use, marijuana and opioid use, mental health, school connectedness, and academic achievement.

The survey is available for viewing upon request by contacting the COMPASS team or your school administration.

The COMPASS team has completed an ethics review and has been granted full clearance through the Office of Research Ethics at the University of Waterloo and through each relevant provincial jurisdiction. The Office of Research Ethics closely reviews the questions on the survey before they can be used. School boards and schools are also required to read and approve the questionnaire before agreeing to participate.

Students can skip any questions they prefer not to answer, or decline to participate at any time.

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Is my child too young to be asked questions about smoking/alcohol/drugs?

Research tells us that youth in grades 7-12 already know about these topic areas.

The average age at which students smoke their first whole cigarette is 11 years old. In addition, adolescents are the most vulnerable population subset to start smoking, with 85% of current smokers starting by age 19. By grade 12, the majority of students are current users of alcohol, tobacco, or drugs. The good news is that informed students who can process ideas in a safe environment such as a classroom, are more likely to make healthy choices.

Tobacco and substance use/abuse are part of the school health curriculum from grade 7 on. We encourage teachers to incorporate the COMPASS experience into discussions on these topics, and to use the School Health Profile as a teaching tool. In addition, data from the COMPASS study will be used to create healthier school environments, which further protect youth from tobacco and other substances.

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Will asking questions about these topics actually encourage certain behaviours?


Surveillance surveys have been conducted for decades with the youth/adolescent population and many health professionals argue that the benefits of surveillance far outweigh any potential risks. Youth in grades 7 to 11/12 are already taught about smoking, alcohol and drugs in school as part of the education curriculum. Additionally, the online survey uses skip patterns such that participants who answer “no” to an initial question about ever use of a given substance are not shown any additional questions regarding use of that substance, thus limiting their exposure to the topics.

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Will our school "get in trouble" if a lot of students are physically inactive, or use tobacco/alcohol/marijuana, or report other unhealthy behaviours?


No school will ever get in trouble because of their participation in this survey.

The list of schools who participate in the COMPASS survey is confidential. The Office of Research Ethics does not permit us to release this list to anyone. Participating schools will receive a tailored School Health Profile showing their survey results, but this information will not be released to anyone else unless the school itself wishes to share it with third parties.

Similarly, for students who complete the COMPASS survey, their responses are completely confidential. Individual surveys are identified by an alpha-numeric code only and results are analysed as a group.

Your school would actually benefit from having us work with you to decrease the number of students who are physically inactive, who use tobacco and/or other substances, or who report other unhealthy behaviours.

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Why do you ask about ethnicity?

One task of a survey is to provide a clear picture of the behaviours under study, in this case health behaviours. Different groups of people (e.g., males, females) may be less active or be more overweight, for example, or require different types of interventions to promote their health. We ask students to indicate their ethnic background to help inform the development of new culturally appropriate prevention interventions. This information can help schools and governments develop programs to more equitably improve the health of all students.

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