(Chicago, IL) – Young blacks and Latinos in Chicago tend to distrust most sources of information on
HIV/AIDS prevention, according to a new report drafted by University of Chicago researchers.
That finding and others were released at the 2nd Annual Illinois Youth and HIV/AIDS Forum at the Chicago Cultural Center on February 27.
The new report—focus group research that examined the attitudes of seven focus groups of Chicago-area college students, including blacks, Latinos, whites, males, females, and gay men—was presented by Dr. Dexter Voisin, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration.
“The research reveals that AIDS awareness initiatives and media messages targeted at young people in Chicago – and African-Americans, in particular – fail to gain traction with them,” said Voisin. “The youth
noted the irony of a 30-second HIV/AIDS public service announcement embedded within sexually charged television programming.”
Government public health messages also fall flat.
“The youth are deeply suspicious of government and can cite the Tuskegee Experiment, in which doctors falsely offered treatment to syphilis-infected sharecroppers in order to observe the degree to which the body was ravaged,” said Voisin. “They know their history and it complicates today’s HIV/AIDS battle.”
Other report findings include:
- Media forms have a gender bias—young women respond to story lines, young men respond to celebrities and billboards.
- that they may be labeled negatively as “fast” women.
- Whites seemed to get most of their information from, and are most strongly influenced by, medical and public health authorities, as well as from biology and sex-ed lessons at school.
- Celebrities and more popular media forms appear to be less consequential media formats for whites than they are for blacks and Latinos.
- All groups reported a significant reduction in the intensity, range, and the length of media messages on HIV prevention and testing over the last 5 years.
- Posters and billboards effectively reach men, especially on public transportation.
- Text messaging is not a popular option for communicating prevention message because it would irritate youth.
- Facebook and other peer networking sites might be a good place to launch ads and awareness campaigns.
- Respondents said they would be likely to take their parents seriously if they spoke to them about HIV/AIDS.
In addition to Voison’s research, the forum included a panel of HIV/AIDS infected or at-risk youth who spoke of the virus’ impact on them, a panel of state public policy experts debated possible legislative policy initiatives by the Illinois General Assembly, and a luncheon keynote speech by Emory University Professor Ralph DiClemente, an expert on HIV/AIDS and adolescents.
The Chicago-based The Children’s Place Association, a non-profit child-welfare agency that provides specialized care to children, young people, and families battling HIV/AIDS, funded the research.
“When you examine the Illinois HIV infection rate, the percentage of the epidemic that is represented by youth has been growing over the last five years,” says Cathy Krieger, President & CEO of The Children’s Place Association.
Between 30 and 50% of new infections occur in people between the ages of 13 and 24, according to The Journal of the American Medical Association research published on August 6, 2008.
“Different HIV prevention messages work for different people,” said Krieger. “It is a matter of life and death that youth in Chicago hear HIV prevention messages that can help them prevent the disease’s spread.”
Krieger said that young African-Americans’ distrust of traditional government public health messages was the most disturbing finding.
“There is a distinct disconnect between government and health institution messages and what youth in the black community hear,” Krieger says.
The Illinois Department of Public Health, represented by Dr. Mildred Williamson, Ph.D., MPH, the department’s HIV/AIDS Chief, presented a statistical portrait of HIV/AIDS in Illinois, noting that the youth proportion of HIV/AIDS infections in Illinois has grown from 10% in 2000 to 20% in 2008–a 100% increase.