Newswise — HOUSTON – (Aug. 15, 2016) – Researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) have developed a culturally appropriate, online sexual health curriculum for American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) youth, adapted from It’s Your Game…Keep it Real, an evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention program. A paper about the adaptation process was published Aug. 12 in the Journal of Primary Prevention.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, early sexual activity has been associated with increased risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

In a previous study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, UTHealth researchers examined the protective and risk factors for early sexual activity among AI/AN youth. Researchers found that AI/AN youth may benefit from prevention programs that address sexual intentions, substance abuse and lessons on how to avoid risky situations.

“AI/AN youth in small communities often lack access to confidential and reliable information about sexual health which can impact healthy decision making,” said Christine Markham, Ph.D., joint principal investigator and associate professor in the Center for Health Promotion and Prevention Research at UTHealth School of Public Health.

Markham and joint principal investigator, Ross Shegog, Ph.D., have been collaborating with organizations interested in AI/AN health to identify effective strategies to deliver sexual health information to AI/AN teens. They partnered with colleagues at the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc, and a tribal organization in Alaska for the Native It’s Your Game study.

As part of the study, researchers surveyed 537 AI/AN youth ages 12 to 14 from 27 study sites in Alaska, Arizona and the Pacific Northwest. AI/AN youth were less likely to have been sexually active if they had lower intentions to have sex in the next year, avoided risky situations and did not use alcohol.

Stephanie Craig Rushing, Ph.D., M.P.H., from the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, conducted surveys in 2009 and found the rate of internet use was higher among AI/AN than that of non-Native youth.

“Knowing that AI/AN youth are already forming their own communities online, we wanted to develop a program that could tap into those existing communities,” said Markham.

Based on the 2009 survey findings, the research team at UTHealth School of Public Health began to adapt It’s Your Game-Tech, an online multimedia curriculum developed by researchers at the school to prevent teen pregnancy and STIs, including HIV. The adapted program, NATIVE It’s Your Game, includes stories and elements from AI/AN cultures from the three regions and is entirely web-based.

NATIVE It’s Your Game includes Native elders and health educators who reflect tribal voices and perspectives. Production elements include video and music produced by Native artists and videos of cultural events representative of the various groups in the region.

Further research will determine the efficacy of the adaptation in improving the sexual health of AI/AN youth, but initial results indicate that the culturally adapted activities such as inclusion of elders and teen peer videos were positively rated among AI/AN youth.

Additional study co-investigators from the School of Public Health include Jennifer Torres, M.P.H.; Elizabeth R. Baumler, Ph.D.; Robert C. Addy, Ph.D., and Melissa Peskin, Ph.D.

Funding for this study included grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (5U48DP001949-02) and the Administration for Children and Families (90AT0013-02-00).

Hannah Rhodes Media Contact: 713-500-3030