Surgeon General Pushed Schools to Address AIDS

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C. Everett Koop, who as the U.S. surgeon general in the 1980s became an outspoken advocate for teaching children in "the lowest grade possible" about a growing health threat called AIDS, died Feb. 25 at his home in Hanover, N.H. He was 96.

Dr. Koop, a retired pediatric surgeon tapped by President Ronald Reagan to be the nation's doctor in 1981, found himself frustrated by the administration's slowness in reacting to AIDS.

Dr. Koop also called for a smoke-free society by 2000 and accused the tobacco industry of marketing directly to children.

He argued that because education was the best AIDS-prevention strategy, sex education should begin in 3rd grade. HIV and AIDS have since become a staple of health and sex education classes. Dr. Koop disagreed with U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett's position that abstaining from sex be the only preventive measure taught to students. Dr. Koop also advocated abstinence, but he wanted a more comprehensive approach, especially for young people at greatest risk of contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

At a congressional hearing in 1987, Dr. Koop warned that the United States was facing an "explosion" in the number of teenagers with AIDS. He advocated an abstinence-only approach, but noted that such a message, and one of monogamy, would not have an effect on some adolescents.

"I was talking to a group of teenagers recently about this problem of being monogamous, and I said, 'I mean long-term monogamous,' " he told House lawmakers. "And this girl said, 'How long? A semester?' "

Vol. 32, Issue 23, Page 5

Published in Print: March 6, 2013, as Surgeon General Pushed Schools to Address AIDS
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