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Poll: Many U.S. Teens Think They Are Not at Risk for HIV

Poll: Many U.S. Teens Think They Are Not at Risk for HIV

August 7, 2014 — Nearly 90% of teenagers believe they are not at risk for contracting HIV, according to a recent survey by the MAC AIDS Fund, Vox reports.

For the survey, the group polled more than 1,000 U.S. residents ages 12 to 17.

Key Findings

About one in three respondents did not realize HIV is a type of sexually transmitted infection, the survey found. In addition, 71% of the teens said they knew using a condom helps to prevent the spread of HIV, while less than 50% said that having only one sexual partner can help to prevent HIV.

According to Vox, health experts caution that lack of awareness about HIV could be one factor contributing to a rise in diagnoses among youth. CDC reports that people ages 13 to 24 account for about one in four new HIV infections in the U.S. and that about 60% of infected individuals are unaware they have HIV.

The findings also highlight stigma and misinformation about HIV among youth, according to Vox. For example, less than 40% of respondents said they would spend time with or talk to a friend or classmate who is HIV-positive to help make that person feel better (Lopez, Vox, 8/4).

Daily Beast: U.S. Teens 'Relatively Clear' on Unhealthy Behaviors With Greatest Risks

Meanwhile, Daily Beast columnist Russell Saunders writes that while the survey "does reveal some worrisome data about [teens'] attitudes and level of information about HIV and AIDS," the results as a whole "indicate that adolescents have a pretty good understanding of what choices are most likely to worsen their health over time."

For example, the survey "at face value" notes "that 88 percent [of] American teenagers don't perceive themselves to be at risk for lifetime HIV infection," but, "[i]n contrast, they are concerned about the risks of developing cancer (38 percent), diabetes (33 percent), heart disease (28 percent) and obesity (22 percent)." Saunders writes, "Comparing the prevalence of HIV infection to mortality and obesity rates in the United States, those attitudes are actually pretty sensible."

Saunders continues, "For an organization like the MAC AIDS Fund, it makes sense to look at the survey results and respond with alarm," but when it is "viewed as part of a bigger picture, it shows that teenagers have a good idea of what their long-term health risks truly are" (Saunders, Daily Beast, 8/6).