Teens Don’t Know HIV Is an STD

A new study published by the MAC AIDS Fund shows a third of teens don’t know HIV is a sexually transmitted disease. Have the lessons of generations past been lost?

American teenagers have a relatively clear view of which unhealthy behaviors will put them at greatest long-term risk.That was my conclusion reading the results of a new survey put out by the MAC AIDS Fund (PDF). The online survey of about 1,000 teenagers was conducted this year by the communications firm Kelton, and does reveal some worrisome data about their attitudes and level of information about HIV and AIDS. Given its funding source, it makes sense that those facts would be the focus of the report. But taken as a whole, the results indicate that adolescents have a pretty good understanding of what choices are most likely to worsen their health over time.

The most startling and worrisome finding (helpfully highlighted by Vox) is that roughly a third of the respondents did not identify HIV as a sexually transmitted infection (STI). If a true reflection of teenagers’ knowledge of how HIV is spread, that number is troubling indeed. A 2002 study of youth at an urban clinic found that, despite spotty knowledge about STIs as a whole, HIV was identified as such by 91 percent, a larger number than identified any of the others. While a difference in study populations may account for some of that discrepancy between the two surveys, a drop to 67 percent in the span of a dozen years would be a precipitous decline in informedness.

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