Context: Peer-led interventions have become a popular method of providing sexual health education to adolescents, but the efficacy of this approach and the methodological quality of recent trials have not been systematically reviewed.
Methods: Electronic and hand searches were conducted to identify quasi-randomized and randomized controlled trials of peer-led adolescent sexual health education published from 1998 to 2005. Studies were eligible if they had an appropriate comparison group, provided preintervention and postintervention data, and reported all outcomes. Study results were summarized and, where appropriate, pooled; in addition, 10 aspects of studies' methodological quality were assessed.
Results: Thirteen articles met the inclusion criteria. Pooled, adjusted results from seven trials that examined the effects of peer-led interventions on condom use at last sex found no overall benefit (odds ratio, 1.0). None of the three trials that assessed consistent condom use found a benefit. One study reported a reduced risk of chlamydia (0.2), but another found no impact on STD incidence. One study found that young women (but not young men) who received peer-led education were more likely than nonrecipients to have never had sex. Most interventions produced improvements in knowledge, attitudes and intentions. Only three studies fulfilled all 10 of the assessed quality criteria; two others met nine criteria.
Conclusions: Despite promising results in some trials, overall findings do not provide convincing evidence that peer-led education improves sexual outcomes among adolescents. Future trials should build on the successful trials conducted to date and should strive to fulfill existing quality criteria.