Aim: To examine the effectiveness of interventions seeking to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, among young people in the European Union.
Methods: For this systematic review, we examined interventions that aimed at STI risk reduction and health promotion conducted in schools, clinics, and in the community for reported effectiveness (in changing sexual behavior and/or knowledge) between 1995 and 2005. We also reviewed study design and intervention methodology to discover how these factors affected the results, and we compiled a list of characteristics associated with successful and unsuccessful programs. Studies were eligible if they employed a randomized control design or intervention-only design that examined change over time and measured behavioral, biologic, or certain psychosocial outcomes.
Results: Of the 19 studies that satisfied our review criteria, 11 reported improvements in the sexual health knowledge and/or attitudes of young people. Ten of the 19 studies aimed to change sexual risk behavior and 3 studies reported a significant reduction in a specific aspect of sexual risk behavior. Two of the interventions that led to behavioral change were peer-led and the other was teacher-led. Only 1 of the 8 randomized controlled trials reported any statistically significant change in sexual behavior, and then only for young females.
Conclusion: The young people studied were more accepting of peer-led than teacher-led interventions. Peer-led interventions were also more successful in improving sexual knowledge, though there was no clear difference in their effectiveness in changing behavior. The improvement in sexual health knowledge does not necessarily lead to behavioral change. While knowledge may help improve health-seeking behavior, additional interventions are needed to reduce STIs among young people.