Teen Sex and Pregnancy: Evidence from Systematic Reviews

Having just posted on systematic reviews, let’s take a look at some recent examples on a topic of importance in contemporary society: sexual activity and pregnancy on the part of teenagers. We tend to throw up our hands about this problem, but systematic evidence-based reviews show that some intervention programs actually work, and others don’t. Take a look at these as examples of how systematic reviews work and what they can tell us.

A Cochrane Collaboration review team examined the literature on teen pregnancy prevention. They examined studies of primary pregnancy prevention carried out in a variety of settings. Findings from a total of 41 randomized, controlled trials were synthesized. The review team found that programs that combined educational and contraceptive interventions were effective in preventing teen pregnancy.

A systematic review was conducted of programs to promote condom use among teens. This study is a good example of a review that concluded there was insufficient evidence to be definitive. Although many individual intervention studies showed modest effects, the authors noted that the quality of most of the studies was poor. So in this case, we really can’t be sure interventions to promote condom use really work.

What about abstinence? Our friendly neighborhood Cochrane reviewers have taken this on, too. They conducted a systematic review of abstinence-only HIV prevention programs, and found no evidence that such programs protected against sexually transmitted diseases. They also did not prevent teens from engaging in unprotected intercourse, the frequency of intercourse, the number of sexual partners, age of sexual initiation, or condom use.

Got 10 minutes? Brush up on your “research-readiness.”

Everyone knows it’s important to be “ready” to read and understand research reports, and to be able to evaluate research findings to use in their jobs. But how can we do a quick tone-up of our understanding about research evidence?

There’s an easy solution. Cornell Professor Rachel Dunifon (Department of Policy Analysis and Management) and Laura Colossi have prepared a set of “briefs” that take about 15 minutes each to read. They cover critically important basics of using and understanding research (geared to Cooperative Extension personnel but relevant to human service workers in any field), and are useful even to those of us who consider ourselves already “research ready.”

Here’s the site: http://www.parenting.cit.cornell.edu/research_briefs.html

Topics include:

How to Read A Research Article. This brief provides information on how to navigate through academic research articles, and also emphasizes the importance of staying up to date on the research in your chosen field of work.

Resources for Doing Web Research. This brief is designed to provide educators with the tools needed to conduct web based research effectively. Instructions on how to obtain scholarly research via the web are provided, in addition to links to longer resource guides on assessing the value of information on the web.

Designing an Effective Questionnaire. This research brief provides some basic ideas on how to best write a questionnaire and capture the information needed to assess program impact.

What’s the Difference? “Post then Pre” and “Pre then Post” This brief highlights the strengths and weaknesses of two popular evaluation designs, lists possible criteria to choose a design, as well as the importance of reducing threats to validity when conducting an evaluation.

Measuring Evaluation Results with Microsoft Excel. This brief illustrates one method for calculating mean scores among responses to evaluation instruments, and provides educators with a tutorial on how to perform basic functions using Microsoft Excel.

Happy reading – I think you will find these briefs very useful roadmaps in the sometimes confusing task of applying research findings to your work. Are there any other topics you’d like this kind of information on? If so, post a comment!

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