Should Schools Test Kids for HIV?

School-based health services provide critical preventive care for adolescents, especially in poor and diverse communities.

School-based health services provide critical preventive care for adolescents, especially in poor and diverse communities. This is important because youths are at high risk for several sexually-transmitted infections (STIs). In fact, half of STI cases occur in those 18 to 24 years old, and a quarter of new HIV infections are seen in 13 and 14 year olds.

A study included in the September 2016 issue of the Journal of School Health indicates that school-based sex education improves the sexual health of youth.

The University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Laboratory randomly dialed participants older than 18 years in the local community and reached more than 300 residents. The phone survey consisted of questions about the perceived percent of adolescents who are sexually active, support for sexuality education, condom provision, and STI/HIV testing and treatment.

Most respondents favored sexual health services at the middle and high school levels, though they were more likely to support these services in high school than in middle school. A slight 6% of respondents supported abstinence-only education, and 5% opposed any sex education at all.

Respondents who were supportive were more likely to perceive that middle and high school students are sexually active. However, perceived sexual activity was much higher than student-reported statistics confirmed: 33% of respondents believed middle school students are sexually active, but 15% of students reported sexual activity. Among high school students, sexual activity was gauged at 46% (actual) compared with 61% (perceived).

Approximately 60% and 75% of respondents supported HIV testing and treatment at the middle and high school levels, respectively. Fewer participants thought that giving condoms to kids was a good idea, as 44% supported provision to middle school students and 63% to high school students.

Democrats were more supportive of condom provision and STI/HIV testing and treatment than Republicans. Middle-aged respondents were least supportive of sex education at middle schools, and older respondents were least supportive of condom provision.

These findings complement the scarce literature available on community support for sex education, and they may be used to improve school-based sex education. Other school districts should conduct similar studies with their local public health departments and youth-targeted agencies to customize outreach in their community.