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Research tackles drug use, HIV in South African youth
Date:12/13/2010

Drug use, risky sexual behavior and violence among South African youth may be reduced thanks to Penn State researchers, who will look at expanding a leisure education and life skills program to 56 South African high schools. The researchers, led by Linda Caldwell, professor of recreation, park, and tourism management, and Edward Smith, associate director of the Penn State Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development, received a $2.8-million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Caldwell and her colleagues will implement HealthWise, a curriculum they developed that "teaches youth how to best utilize their free time," said Caldwell. HealthWise teaches adolescents to examine personal motivations and other factors leading to their decision-making, and it also provides information on safe sexual practices and how to avoid risky situations. In better understanding why they make decisions, youth can successfully prevent poor outcomes that result from risky decisions.

Recent studies show that nearly one-quarter of HIV-infected individuals in South Africa are under the age of 25, and AIDS is responsible for 71 percent of all deaths in the 15 to 49 year age group. One in eight South African high school students begins drinking alcohol before the age of 13. In grades 8 through 11, more than 10 percent of children have tried marijuana ,and about 30 percent of children have smoked cigarettes.

Caldwell and Smith first implemented HealthWise in the Cape Town Metro South Education District (MSED) in 2001 as a pilot program and later as a randomized trial involving nine schools and over 7,000 youth. Results from the trial indicated HealthWise was effective in reducing both substance use and sexual risk. Cigarette and alcohol use, for example, were significantly lower among those in the HealthWise schools. In addition, fewer males initiated sexual behavior and were less likely to push girls into unwanted sex. Importantly, from the
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Contact: A'ndrea Elyse Messer
aem1@psu.edu
814-865-9481
Penn State
Source:Eurekalert

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