Health And Nutrition

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Sex education in the schools does not lead teen-agers who would otherwise remain chaste to engage in premarital sex, according to a study published this summer by two researchers from The Johns Hopkins University.

The researchers, Melvin Zelnik and Young J. Kim, also found that the group of teen-age women whose sex-education courses had included material on contraception experienced fewer pregnancies than those who had received no instruction in contraception.

The study, published in the May/June issue of Family Planning Perspectives, provides the first hard data on a question that has been the source of controversy in many school districts for about 30 years: Does sex education promote "promiscuity"? Parents and educators, confronted with rising rates of teen-age pregnancy, have often linked the increase with the availability of sex-education classes in school.

But contrary to the claims of these critics, "Young people who have had sex education [in school] are no more likely to have sexual intercourse than those who have never taken a course," write the researchers.

Their results, the researchers argue, "provide overwhelming support for the claim that the decision to engage in sexual activity is not influenced by whether or not teen-agers have had sex education in school."

The study also sought to determine whether sex education affected adolescents' use of contraceptives. The researchers found that teen-age women who had had sex education were more likely to use birth control the first time they had intercourse than were young women who had had no sex-education classes. But those who had sex education were neither more nor less likely to practice contraception each time they engaged in sexual activity.

Of the group of adolescents studied, about three-fourths had taken a course in school that included sex education. White students were more likely than black students to have received sex education in school.

The controversial regulation that would require federally funded family-planning clinics to notify parents when they give teen-agers prescription birth-control drugs or devices remains tentative for the time being, while the Department of Health and Human Services sorts through the more than 70,000 letters it has received in response to the proposal.

"We are right now in the process of considering the comments," said a spokesman for the department. The "best guess" for when the regulation might be published in final form is "sometime in the fall."

The department can offer no simple breakdown of the number of comments for and against the regulation, the spokesman said. The comments fall into more than two categories and such a breakdown could be misleading. Some of those who commented, for example, object to the regulation because it does not go far enough, and others object because they believe that teen-agers should not be receiving contraceptives at all. Still others suggest that parental permission, not just notification, should be a prerequisite for distributing birth-control drugs and devices, according to the official.

Other people object to the regulation on broader grounds. Some state that teen-agers are entitled to complete privacy and that the regulation would violate that, the spokesman said. Others argue that it will compound the already enormous problem of teen-age pregnancy.

"It's more complicated than simply saying 30 percent are in favor, 70 percent against," the spokesman said. "We're concentrating on identifying the major issues."

It's official, or very nearly so: Parents who want to apply to schools for free or reduced-price meals for their children must disclose their total household income and the Social Security numbers of all adults living there. The "interim-final" rule, published by the Agriculture Department in the July 23 Federal Register, became effective immediately. However, the agency will continue to accept comments from interested parties for at least several months, in order to fine-tune the process.

The agency had modified the proposed rule only slightly in response to the comments received during the 30-day comment period. Adults who lack a Social Security number do not have to apply for a number before their children can participate. They need only respond with a simple ''not applicable."

Some state officials were concerned that the children of undocumented aliens would be denied nutritious meals because their parents feared detection by immigration authorities. A usda spokesman said that the intent of the rule had never been to exclude anyone, but merely to ensure that the benefits were going to those entitled to receive them.

State officials in California, however, still argue that a response of "not applicable," or "none" is tantamount to an admission that one is in the country illegally.

The application form will not, as proposed, require families to say whether they are eligible for food stamps. But the usda suggests that states may want to request that information anyway.

The comments received by the agency about the rule ranged from favorable to adamantly opposed. In California, state officials remain displeased with the requirement for Social Security numbers and concerned about the issue of privacy. A usda spokesman said that the regulations address that question fully and that the Social Security numbers will be used only to verify income and other factors that affect eligibility.

A second proposed school-lunch regulation, first published in May with the application-form rule, has not yet been released in "interim-final"form. That regulation will establish standards for verifying eligibility. The federal agency is studying the comments it received on the proposal and officials say they are not sure when the interim rule will be published.

Vol. 01, Issue 40

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