Sexual health programs appear to help increase condom use and abstinence among black American teens, researchers say.
They analyzed data from 29 studies that examined the effect of school- and community-based programs on nearly 12,000 teens.
"We focused on black adolescents because they face greater health disparities when it comes to the risk of unplanned pregnancy and contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) compared to other adolescents," said first author Reina Evans, a doctoral student at North Carolina State University.
She said the disparity stems largely from the context in which black teens make decisions about their health.
"For example, stress from racism and discrimination, as well as unequal access to health care can impact the health of black teens," Evans said in a university news release. "We wanted to see whether sexual health interventions can be a valuable tool in addressing this disparity."
The researchers found that black teens were slightly more likely to abstain from sex or use condoms if they took part in one of these programs, especially if it was a school-based program.
But they saw no effect from the programs -- positive or negative -- on rates of unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease.
"However, only 4 of the 29 studies investigated these important outcomes, so these findings should be considered preliminary," Evans said.
"It is likely that offering a sexual health program to youth could be one component of the puzzle of preventing teen pregnancy and STIs, and other components are also needed -- like increasing access to contraception and STI testing and addressing racism in health care in the United States," she noted.
"These findings highlight that sexual health interventions make a positive difference for many black adolescents," Evans said.
Her team also found that sexual health programs increased teens' knowledge and their confidence that they could and would make safe sexual decisions.
The study was published April 20 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
Next steps should include finding ways to share interventions more broadly and encourage more teens to take advantage of them, Evans said.
"What's more, there's an urgent need to address disparities in access to long-term, high-quality reproductive health care, which could have a significant effect on health outcomes for black teens," she concluded.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on teen sexual health.