Two members of a Centers for Disease Control team that evaluated studies of sex education programs have raised alarms, reporting that the data actually conflicts with the agency’s stated conclusion that comprehensive programs such as those emphasizing “safe sex” over abstinence are working.
The alarms are being raised by Irene Ericksen and Danielle Ruedt, two members of the CDC panel that evaluated dozens of studies and came up with the conclusion supporting the so-called “comprehensive” programs that teach children to use condoms.
They issued a minority report to warn policymakers and educators against relying too heavily on the majority document.
“According to this minority report, the study recommendations may mislead policymakers by presenting conclusions that don’t match key study findings,” confirmed Paul Birch, chief of the Institute for Research and Evaluation. “The report is important because it allows differing views on this research to be presented at a time when Congress is re-examining sex education policy.”
The overall study, called “Group-based Interventions to Prevent Adolescent Pregnancy, HIV, and Other STDs,” stated the effectiveness of programs that include condom instruction.
It was based on the compilation of 83 studies done from 1980 through 2007 and was released just in time to be considered for President Obama’s request to cut money from abstinence education programs and give it to comprehensive programs that teach kids to use condoms.
But according to Ericksen, a research analyst with the Institute for Research and Evaluation in Salt Lake City, the statistics inside the study showed no difference between abstinence education and so-called “comprehensive sex education” on key factors including teen condom use, sexual activity, pregnancy and STDs.
According to the South-Dakota-based Abstinence Clearinghouse, the statistics actually revealed that abstinence programs produced a significant reduction in teen sexual activity, as documented by 10 studies from six authors.
“But the researchers discounted these results because several randomized AE studies showed lesser effects, even though these studies had important design problems that called into question their impact,” the organization reported.
Leslee Unruh, president of Abstinence Clearinghouse, said the report that may not be supported by its documentation is troubling.
“These results present a different picture than the study’s published conclusions, especially for school-based CSE,” she said. “Policymakers deserve accurate information regarding the lack of effects of these condom-centered programs.
“Moreover, the emotional health of our children is as important as their physical health and condom education fails youth in both of these areas. Abstinence education protects both,” she said.
The underlying statistics were not being released by the CDC, the minority report said.
“The Task Force has made public its Recommendation Statements without also making available to the public the full set of study findings upon which the recommendations are based – both supporting and otherwise. The reason given for this decision is that the data from the study has not yet been scientifically cleared by the CDC for release to the public. However, this policy prevents the public from scrutinizing the body of evidence underlying the CDC Task Force Recommendations in the same time frame in which the CDC recommendations will influence the
decisions of policymakers and public health professionals,” the report said.
Unruh told WND that there’s a huge danger releasing conclusions that are not adequately supported by evidence. Policymakers in state legislatures and in Washington will determine which programs should be given state and federal dollars, but without accurate information, it’s like pouring money down a drain.
The CDC study was a meta-analysis of dozens of studies of sex education programs in the U.S., and the assumptions presented by the majority found comprehensive sex education programs are generally effective in both community and school settings.
“The effectiveness of school-based programs is crucial since the school classroom is where most teens receive sex education,” said Ruedt, the Public Health Programs Coordinator for the Georgia Governor’s Office of Children and Families. “Yet the report’s conclusion that comprehensive sex education programs are generally effective in schools settings is contradicted by some of the data upon which the report is based.”
Ericksen described the underlying problem as a fundamental research error: The effort combined widely varying types of sex education programs and then made generalized assumptions for all of them.
“The resulting internal inconsistency in the results indicates there are many types of CSE programs that don’t work, yet the study concludes that CSE programs are broadly effective. This, along with the lack of evidence for school-based programs, makes the study’s recommendations potentially misleading to policy-makers who want to implement evidence-based programs, especially in schools,” said Ericksen.
The minority report found that the documentation reviewed actually overstates “the likelihood that any single (comprehensive sex education) program will be effective at protecting the sexual health of adolescents, especially the school-based programs, which are the focus of the public policy debate about sex education.”
Further, the misleading information will “impact the future health of millions of adolescents across the country.”
recommendations also fail to acknowledge the evidence for the effectiveness of abstinence
education (AE) programs at reducing teen sexual activity, and invite conclusions that [comprehensive sex education] is a
superior approach to AE, which is not supported by the evidence.”
The entire study’s validity was undermined by the meta-analysis process to combine “apples and oranges,” the minority report said. Also, there is such a level of “internal inconsistency” over the types of sex education programs, that the results should be suspect, the two wrote.
Further, the overall study included oral contraceptives under a category that included protection against pregnancy and STDs, a completely incorrect categorization, they said. And it categorizes the behavior of abstinence the same as the behavior of using a condom, which “can be misleading and confusing,” they said.
Despite the dangers presented by the study and its documentation, the Washington Post reported, based on the CDC’s information, that comprehensive programs, those that instruct about condom use, actually “effectively” reduce risky sexual behavior and cut STDs.