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Youths' Grasp of Health IssuesSaid To Show 'Dismaying' Gaps Washington

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Although most teenagers know that aids is transmitted by sexual intercourse and by sharing drug needles, many know very little about preventing sexually transmitted diseases and how to lead a healthy life, a new survey has found.

The survey, funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, polled more than 11,000 8th- and 10th-grade students on their health practices and attitudes.

Its findings, health officials and educators said at a press conference here, are "dismaying." According to the survey, many teenagers have been victimized by crime, are plagued by depression, pursue high-risk activities, and have an unhealthy diet.

"The data are clear--we can no longer afford a piecemeal approach to health education," said Gus Dalis, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County education department.

The survey found surprising gaps in teenagers' knowledge about major health issues. Although more than 90 percent of the 8th and 10th graders knew how aids is transmitted, approximately half said that the disease can be transmitted when donating blood and that washing after sex can reduce the chances of being infected.

Similarly, while more than 8 out of 10 students polled knew that using condoms is an effective way of reducing the risk of getting aids, many had misconceptions about how to avoid getting sexually transmitted diseases.

The survey also found that:

About 40 percent of the girls and 25 percent of the boys polled said they had "seriously thought" about committing suicide. Nearly 20 percent of the girls and 10 percent of the boys said they had attempted suicide.

Most students said they do not use seatbelts or bicycle helmets, and many reported that they had driven with an intoxicated driver.

Many said they had been the victims of crime. (See related story, this page.)

About 25 percent of the 8th graders and 33 percent of the 10th graders said they had had more than five drinks on one occasion during the previous two weeks.

Many reported having diets high in fat and sugar, and more than half were unable to understand the nutritional information on a cereal box.--ef

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