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Findings Inconclusive on Teaching Abstinence

November 10, 2009

Comprehensive risk-reduction programs to prevent or reduce pregnancy, HIV, and other STDs have sufficient evidence of their efficacy, and such sex education programs can benefit public health, a non-federal panel of health experts concluded in a new report. However, a similar review for abstinence education interventions found insufficient evidence of their effectiveness, and their public health benefits or harms were difficult to ascertain, the 15-member Task Force on Community Preventive Services said.

The Task Force based its conclusions on systematic analyses conducted by a 19-member team of scientists assembled by CDC. The Task Force examined 83 study arms involving comprehensive risk-reduction programs and 23 study arms involving abstinence-only programs. Comprehensive programs typically teach abstinence as the "preferred" strategy but also identify a hierarchy of recommended behaviors to prevent or reduce pregnancy and HIV/STDs, including condom and contraceptive use, the report said. Abstinence-only programs promote abstinence and "mention condoms or other birth control methods only to highlight their failure rates if at all," the report said. All the programs were geared to people ages 10-19.

"At long last, evidence and common sense have returned to public health policy," said James Wagoner of Advocates for Youth. "The Task Force endorses the comprehensive approach to prevention that includes condoms and birth control. We should be spending taxpayer dollars only on evidence-based programs."

Two Task Force members, including Danielle Ruedt of the Georgia Governor's Office of Children and Families, issued a dissent to the findings, arguing that comprehensive school-based programs do not significantly increase teen condom use, pregnancy or STDs.

The dissenting members' point is flawed, said CDC's Randy Elder, who worked with the Task Force. "They reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the systematic review process," Elder said.

To access the Task Force findings and rationales, visit

Back to other news for November 2009

Adapted from:
Washington Post
11.07.2009; Rob Stein

This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.


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