HIV knowledge and its contribution to sexual health behaviors of low-income African American adolescents

Rebecca R. Swenson, Christie J. Rizzo, Larry K. Brown, Peter A. Vanable, Michael P. Carey, Robert F. Valois, Ralph J. DiClemente, Daniel Romer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: Although many factors contribute to racial disparities in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/AIDS among young African Americans, knowledge is a particularly modifiable factor. However, little information has been published about the current HIV knowledge of African American teens or to what extent knowledge independently contributes to their sexual behavior and health. This study aimed to describe the level of knowledge among this at-risk population and determine whether knowledge contributes to variance in sexual behavior and health beyond that of sociodemographic and psychological factors. Methods: African American adolescents (n = 1658) were recruited in 2 northeastern and 2 southeastern US cities (74% eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch). Analyses utilized data gathered from adolescents using an audio computer-assisted self-interview program. Results: On average, participants answered only 50% of HIV knowledge items correctly and were least accurate concerning effective condom use and HIV testing. Controlling for associated sociodemographic and psychological factors, greater knowledge was associated with sexual experience and, among experienced adolescents, with sexually transmitted infection/HIV testing and - unexpectedly - less condom use. Conclusions: HIV knowledge, which is modifiable, is limited among at-risk African American adolescents and is an important contributor to sexual behavior and health. Findings indicate a need for more comprehensive HIV/AIDS education, particularly with regard to condom use and the benefits of routine sexually transmitted infection/HIV testing. Although knowledge might not be sufficiently protective in and of itself, having accurate information about HIV may benefit sexual health by impacting health-promoting attitudes necessary for successful engagement in health care-seeking behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1173-1182
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the National Medical Association
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2010


  • African Americans
  • Sexual transmitted diseases

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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