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CDC: Too few schools meet recommendations for sex education

Half of all high schools and one-fifth of middle schools teach all 16 sex education topics recommended by the CDC.

By Stephen Feller

ATLANTA, Dec. 10 (UPI) -- In the last 20 years, the number of U.S. teenagers who report using a condom or being sober the last time they had sex has not moved much, according to a new report.

The statistics are raising concern at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which released disappointing new statistics on the wide variability from state to state in how schools teach the prevention of HIV, STDs, and pregnancy.

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The agency draws a line from the new Adolescent and School Health report, which reports fewer than half of high schools and about one-fifth of middle schools cover all 16 topics the CDC recommends teenagers in grades 6 through 12 learn.

Nearly one-quarter of new HIV diagnoses and half of all STD infections occur in people under age 25, however gains in safe sex among the demographic have stagnated since the early 2000s, according to the CDC's Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System.

That report, released in May, showed the percentage of teens who reported they used a condom the last time they had sex decreased from 63 percent to 59 percent since 2003, and 22 percent said they drank alcohol or used drugs during their last sexual encounter -- which the agency says reflect "no progress in more than two decades."

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"Lack of effective sex education can have very real, very serious health consequences," said Dr. Stephanie Zaza, director of CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Health, in a press release. "Young people who have multiple sex partners, don't use condoms, and use drugs or alcohol before sex are at higher risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. School-based sex education is a critical opportunity to provide the skills and information they need to protect themselves."

The new CDC report found the proportion of high schools covering all 16 sex education topics related to access and understanding of complete information for personal, family and community health ranged from just 21 percent of schools in Arizona to a high of 90 percent in New Jersey.

Fewer than half of high schools in most states cover all the topics. Just three states -- New York and New Hampshire and New Jersey -- have more than 75 percent of their high schools teaching all the recommended topics.

The numbers were worse for middle schools, ranging from a low of 4 percent in Arizona to 46 percent in North Carolina. In most states, fewer than 20 percent of middle schools taught the topics, and no state had more than half doing so.

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"We need to do a better job of giving our young people the skills and knowledge they need to protect their own health," said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and Tuberculosis Prevention. "It's important to teach students about healthy relationships and how to reduce sexual risk before they start to have sex."

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