UTHealth developed program to be distributed in select public schools
"It's Your Game: Keep It Real," an evidence-based sex education curriculum developed by researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), will be implemented in select public schools across the nation next year as part of a federally-funded program to tackle the U.S. teenage pregnancy rate.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awarded $15 million of its $155-million total package to a team led by Susan Tortolero, Ph.D., director of the UTHealth Center for Health Promotion and Prevention Research.
The UTHealth researchers will use the funding to disseminate its computer-based sex-education program, along with other evidence-backed programs.
"Pregnancy is a serious public health issue for young people, but this is a winnable battle," said Tortolero, associate professor of health promotion and behavioral science at the UTHealth School of Public Health. "We need to do more to educate teenagers on risky sexual behavior and encourage abstinence."
Tortolero's grant will fund a teen pregnancy prevention program in Harris County. Several research-proven programs including "It's Your Game: Keep It Real," will be distributed to 97 middle schools and 87 high schools across the country during the 2011-2012 school year.
In Harris County, 8,000 teen births occur every year at a cost of $156 million, said Tortolero, who is also vice-chair of the Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. In Texas, the number is a staggering 53,000 teen births each year, making it the third highest state in the U.S.
"We will be working with 11 school districts and community partners to implement the programs in public schools," Tortolero said. "The best part of these grants is that all of the evidence shows these programs will work to delay sexual initiation among teenagers."
"It's Your Game: Keep It Real" allows students to play animated computer games and engage in classroom activities in 24 lessons, each 45-minutes long," according to Tortolero. "The program encourages school children to choose their values about sex and then protect those values when they are challenged. I have researched this program for more than a decade. It has been proven that the students who took part in the study where less likely to have sex by ninth grade that those who did not. The curriculum is designed to equip students to have healthy relationships with friends, boyfriends and girlfriends."
Tortolero's research data was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health last year.
For students who are already sexually active, the intervention encourages participants to use condoms consistently and correctly, use an effective method of birth control, and get tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
The grant awarded to UTHealth's Tortolero was the fourth highest among the non-profit organizations, schools districts, universities, and others that received funding.
University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston