Health Campaigns Should Address Public Norms

March 3, 2006

Madeline Vann
Phone: 504-247-1425

Targeting people at highest risk for HIV and STD infection may not be the best approach, says Tulane University public health expert Tom Farley. Farley and coauthor Deborah Cohen of the RAND Corporation published an article in this month's issue of the International Journal of STD & AIDS proposing broader campaigns to the general public to reduce STD risk.

"This idea might appear intuitive, but often in public health we have focused on profiling individuals at high risk of getting or spreading HIV and other STDs, and then talking directly to them," says Farley. "In this article we argue that directing our efforts towards changing the overall acceptability or opportunity for risky sexual decision-making might be more effective than the one-on-one interventions."

Changing the way media portray sex and relationships could help reduce the acceptance of sexual behaviors such as having a high number of partners, Farley says. Other options might include addressing access to alcohol or illegal drugs, since intoxication can lead to poor sexual decision-making.

The team examined data gathered in 45 states during the General Social Survey, 1988 - 1998, and found a positive correlation between the average number of partners and the number of partners high risk people might have that varies by state.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000