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Don’t ask, don’t tell: Why Ga. won’t survey teens on sex
By ANDY MILLER
Every two years, high school students nationwide answer questions in a CDC-sponsored survey that help guide policy on sex education and teen pregnancy.
But not in Georgia. The Peach State asks kids about seat-belt use, smoking, alcohol and drugs, guns and diet, but it’s one of three states that delete survey questions that address sexual behavior. Questions such as:
- Have you ever had sexual intercourse?
- The last time you had sexual intercourse, did you or your partner use a condom?
The Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention says the lack of data on youth sexual behavior represents “a huge gap.”
“Why is sexual behavior different from looking at those risks associated with obesity, tobacco use, and drug and alcohol use?’’ says Michele Ozumba, president and CEO of G-CAPP.
The information, she says, “would help us know the extent of risk young people are facing. To do effective prevention, you have to have solid information.”
Surveying youth on sexual risk behaviors, she says, could lead to lower Georgia’s sexually-transmitted-disease and teen birth rates, which are among the highest in the nation:
- Tenth in teen births,
- Second in teens having repeat births, and
- Among the top 10 in STDs.
Data from the states’ Youth Risk Behavior Surveys and a separate, nationwide CDC survey are used to monitor youth behaviors that lead to violence, unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and unhealthy diet.
Students in 44 states completed the anonymous survey in 2007. Utah and Maryland also removed sex questions from the survey.
The Georgia Department of Education decided in 2001 to skip the sex questions, state health officials say. DOE says it did so because some school districts objected to them.
Two years later, when the state Division of Public Health took over management of the survey, it continued to remove the sexual behavior section.
Last week, the Department of Community Health, the division’s parent agency, said in response to a media query that it may put the sex questions back into the YRBS in 2011.
States use the survey information to shape education programs, promote policies such as seat-belt laws, and apply for grant funding, says Laura Kann, an epidemiologist with the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention.
The CDC encourages states to ask all the questions on the survey, Kann says. Student and state participation is voluntary.
Taking a survey doesn’t lead a person to choose a particular behavior, Kann says. “We don’t have evidence that surveys change behaviors, good or bad,’’ she adds.
Florida officials use the sexual risk questions to develop health education policies, plan programs, help with grant writing and inform the public on youth sexual risk behaviors.
“We also know that academic achievement and success is strongly linked to student health,’’ says Tom Butler, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Education. “Research shows that students who engage in sexual risk behaviors have lower grades, lower test scores, poorer school attendance, and their ability to pay attention in class is lower compared to other students.’’