Csu Researchers Study Sexual Health Risk Messages Among Native Americans, Alaska Natives

Colorado State University researchers are studying the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, among Native American and Alaska Native youth in the United States by investigating sexual behaviors of this group and the information they access to learn about those diseases.

A comprehensive understanding of how Native youth are using existing STD messages will be valuable in the creation of culturally relevant media campaigns to address this public health problem among Native groups. Exploring the relationship between messages about STDs and attitudes and behaviors of Native youth is an area of health research that is largely unexplored.   

Roe Bubar, researcher in the university’s Center for Applied Studies in American Ethnicity and the School of Social Work; Marilee Long and Donna Rouner, researchers in the Journalism and Technical Communication department, will study the sexual health behaviors of Native American youth in the Plains and Southwest regions of the country through in-depth interviews, focus groups, and analysis of media messages within their communities.

STDs affect every population, but minority groups in the United States suffer disproportionately. In South Dakota, Native Americans represent 6.7 percent of the population but represent 40.2 percent of the state’s gonorrhea cases.

Native American youth ages 15-19 contract STDs at rates higher than other adolescent populations. Native American youth rates for gonorrhea – 309 per 100,000 – is nearly triple that for all other youth at 119 per 100,000. The same pattern holds true for cases of Chlamydia. The Native American youth rate for Chlamydia is 2,485 per 100,000 versus 748 per 100,000 for all other youth.

Native Americans and Alaska Natives in particular suffer disproportionately from STDs among minority groups. A 2005 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded that Native Americans and Alaska Natives had the second highest rates of gonorrhea and Chlamydia among minority groups.

Garnering an understanding of the sexual health needs, concerns and interests of Native American youth is key for future interventions and outreach efforts aimed at curbing the high rate of STDs.

STDs can have varied consequences including poor maternal health, ectopic pregnancy, chronic illness, premature death, cervical cancer, infertility and increased susceptibility to HIV.