Perceived Peer Norms, Health Risk Behaviors, and Clustering of Risk Behaviors Among Palestinian Youth
Published in: PLOS ONE, Volume 13, Number 6 (2018), e0198435. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0198435
Relatively little is known about patterns of health risk behaviors among Middle Eastern youth, including how these behaviors are related to perceived peer norms. In a sample of approximately 2,500 15–24 year old Palestinian youth, perceived engagement of general peers in alcohol consumption, drug use and sexual activity was substantially greater than youths' own (self-reported) engagement in these activities, suggesting a tendency to overestimate the prevalence of risk-taking behavior among peers. Individual participation in a risk behavior strongly covaries with the perceived levels of both friends' and peers' engagement in that behavior (p = 0.00 in each case). In addition, significant clustering of risk behaviors is found: youth who participate in one risk behavior are more likely to participate in others. These findings for a rare representative sample of Middle Eastern youth are strikingly similar to those in the US and Europe. The clustering of behaviors suggests that prevention programs should be structured to deal with a range of connected risk behaviors for which certain youth may be at risk. The findings also suggest that adjusting expectations about peers' behavior may reduce young Palestinians' engagement in risk taking.