Comprehensive HIV Prevention Messages for Young People
HIV-related illness and death now have the greatest impact on young people. AIDS is a leading cause of death among Americans 25- to 44-years-old. In this same age group, AIDS now accounts on average for 1 in every 3 deaths among African-American men and 1 in 5 deaths in African-American women. Between 1990 and 1995, AIDS incidence among people 13- to 25- years-old rose nearly 20%. While AIDS incidence among both young gay and bisexual men and young injecting drug users was relatively constant during this time period, AIDS incidence among young heterosexual men and women rose more than 130%.
A study by the National Cancer Institute, confirms existing data which reveal that as each generation comes of age, there is a substantial increase in the rate of infection as individuals enter their late teens and early twenties, with infection rates peaking in the mid-to-late twenties. Sustained, targeted prevention for each group entering young adulthood is what will keep these waves from developing. As the lead federal agency for HIV prevention, CDC is responsible for implementing public education programs to help stop the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
A Balance of Prevention Messages is Needed -- Including Abstinence and Condom Use
Behavioral science has shown that a balance of prevention messages is important for young people. Total abstinence from sexual activity is the only sure way to prevent sexual transmission of HIV infection. Despite all efforts, some young people may still engage in sexual intercourse that puts them at risk for HIV and other STDs. For these individuals, the correct and consistent use of latex condoms has been shown to be highly effective in preventing the transmission of HIV and other STDs. Data clearly show that many young people are sexually active and that they are placing themselves and their partners at risk for infection with HIV and other STDs. These young people must be provided the skills and support they need to protect themselves.
Public Opinion on the Need for Comprehensive Messages
It is clear that the majority of Americans want strong prevention messages that include information on condom use. A 1995 Public Opinion Poll by Chilton Research found that nearly 80 percent of Americans believe information on condoms should be aired on television. Yet, there will always be groups or individuals who feel strongly about any materials that discuss sexual behaviors. The impact of HIV education and prevention programs on the sexual activity of young people has therefore been a subject of continued debate and scientific inquiry.
Findings from Scientific Reviews
The studies to date vary in scope, quality of design, level of peer-review, age group studied, and type of prevention or education program evaluated, and it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions based on any one study alone.
World Health Organization Review
These studies primarily looked at school-based education programs designed for adolescents. The findings indicate that sexual activity among young people decreased or remained the same after exposure to sexual health information that included discussions about condom use. The conclusions do provide some indication of the potential impact of HIV prevention messages delivered within a comprehensive program.
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.