RAND Study Finds Link Between Viewing Sexual Content on Television and Subsequent Teen Pregnancy
Although teen pregnancy in the United States has declined since 1991, the country still has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates among industrialized nations. Nearly 1 million American women under age 20 become pregnant each year, with the majority of these pregnancies unplanned. The factors that contribute to teen pregnancy are numerous, but one influence that has not been closely examined is exposure to sexual content on television. Prior RAND research established a link between such exposure and earlier onset of sexual activity among teens. Extending this work, a team of RAND researchers led by Anita Chandra examined the link between exposure to sexual content on television and pregnancy rates among sexually active teens. The study found that adolescents whose viewing patterns result in the very highest levels of exposure to sexual content (higher than 90 percent of their peers) are twice as likely to be involved in a pregnancy over the following three years as those exposed to the lowest levels (lower than 90 percent of their peers). The study is the first to establish a link between teenagers’ exposure to sexual content on television and subsequent pregnancies among girls or responsibility for pregnancies among boys. The researchers theorized that exposure to sex on television may influence teen pregnancy because those exposed initiate intercourse at younger ages, before they are prepared to do so responsibly, or by fostering the perception that there is little risk to engaging in sex without using contraceptives. The researchers drew implications for broadcasters, parents, and health care providers: (1) broadcasters should more often depict consequences of sex, such as pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, when sex is portrayed;. (2) parents should consider limiting their children’s access to programming with sexual content and spending more time watching programs with their children so that they can explain the consequences of sex;. (3) pediatricians should ask teens about their media use and discuss the potential consequences of sexual activity.
Improving Accountability in Public Health Emergency Preparedness
Since 2001, the United States has spent over $7 billion improving the ability of state and local public health agencies to prepare for bioterrorist attacks and other large-scale health emergencies. However, gauging the payoff from these investments remains elusive. There are no standards for assessing preparedness or measuring improvement. In 2006, Congress passed legislation requiring the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to develop evidence-based performance standards and metrics for public health emergency preparedness. Beginning in 2009, the law also links federal funding for states and other grantees to their performance on these standards. As a first step, DHHS asked RAND to develop performance standards in one essential area of public health preparedness: the ability to dispense antibiotics and other lifesaving medical countermeasures to entire metropolitan areas within the critical first 48 hours of a public health emergency, which would be required during a large-scale aerosolized anthrax attack. The RAND team recommended a series of standards that focus on the “points of dispensing” (or PODs, locations where citizens would go to receive the medications). The standards are intended to guide states and cities through an objective and auditable process that generates customized requirements in four key areas: (1) number and location of PODs; (2) the internal operations of each POD, including the POD’s capability to provide information and medications to citizens and convey their use efficiently; (3) how PODS are staffed; and (4) POD security. The standards represent a major step forward in addressing the congressional requirement (under the 2006 Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act) for evidence-based performance standards for public health emergency preparedness. At least with respect to one critical capability, communities now have a clearer picture of what preparedness looks like.
Anita Chandra, DrPH, is a Behavioral Scientist at the RAND Corporation whose focus is on addressing disparities in health care access, expanding knowledge of the health needs of children and families of color, and building evaluation capacity among community-based organizations. She is currently leading an effort to examine the impact of deployment on the well-being of children from military families and an assessment of school health in Washington, D.C. Dr. Chandra is also involved in the national evaluation of the Safe Start program to address issues for children exposed to violence, an evaluation of a mental health intervention for youth in foster care, and an intervention study on teen depression in primary care settings.
Read more work by Dr. Chandra »
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