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Less Sex, More Drink, Violence Among Pupils

Less Sex, More Drink, Violence Among Pupils

Results from the second National Youth Risk Behavior Survey released April 21 raise questions about the efficacy of government programs aimed at reducing risky behaviors among South African youth.

The survey included self-reported behavior of 10,270 students in grades 8 to 11 from 23 schools in each of the nine South African provinces in 2008. It found slightly fewer children were sexually active (38%) than in 2002 (41%). Among those who were sexually active, there was a significant drop in the proportion who reported more than one partner in the previous three months -- 52% in 2008 versus 70% in 2002. However, the proportion who became pregnant or got someone pregnant during that period increased from 16% in 2002 to 19% in 2008. Condom use increased from 29% to 31% between 2002 and 2008, though researchers noted this change was not statistically significant.

"Part of the problem is that while there has been a lot of money put into promoting safer sex, people on the ground have not been trained to keep up with changes in health education," said Professor Priscilla Reddy, head of the Medical Research Council's Health Promotion Research and Development Unit and the study's principal investigator.

Reddy noted that many intervention programs are not based on sound science. More research is needed to understand what drives risky behavior among youths, and this should then be used to develop more effective prevention programs, she said.

The survey also found nearly a third (29%) of students reported binge drinking in the past month, while 15% said they carried weapons and 19% said they had belonged to gangs during the past six months.

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