Saturday, July 25, 2009

An American Tragedy

Here's an interesting article on HIV/AIDS in the African American community. Check it out!

New data show the terrible toll that HIV/AIDS is taking among African Americans.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

DR. JEFFREY CROWLEY, director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, has been tasked by President Obama with developing a national AIDS strategy within the next year. It's long overdue and desperately needed. New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide the starkest evidence yet that an American tragedy is underway.

While HIV/AIDS is an indiscriminate killer that cuts through every socioeconomic group in the United States, statistics from 2006, the latest available, show that the epidemic with no cure is devastating the African American community. Although blacks make up just 12 percent of the population, they account for 46 percent of those living with HIV/AIDS. There are now an estimated 56,300 new HIV infections annually, 45 percent of them by African Americans.

Men who have sex with men (MSM) continue to bear the brunt of the epidemic, with about 30,000 becoming HIV-positive each year. But young black men are hardest hit. "Young black MSM aged 13-29 . . . account for more new HIV infections than any other age or racial group of MSM," said Kevin Fenton, head of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention at the CDC. "Among MSM overall, there were more new HIV infections in young black MSM aged 13-29 than any other age or racial group of MSM."

As we learned earlier this year, the story in the District is no less grim. A report from the city's HIV/AIDS Administration revealed that African Americans account for 76 percent of the cases here. In total, 4.3 percent of the black population in the District is living with the disease, as are 6.5 percent of all black men.

These numbers should shock the conscience -- and spur action. The national strategy being crafted for the president must include efforts to destigmatize the disease and to get people tested and into treatment. HIV testing must become a routine part of medical care (akin to testing for diabetes, for instance). Work with African American civic organizations to stress the importance of testing and treatment must be accelerated. But none of this will work if all people from all ages and backgrounds don't know or refuse to learn their HIV status. This head-in-the-sand mentality cannot continue. Mr. Obama is leading by example. To mark HIV testing day last month, the White House released video that showed the Obamas getting tested during a 2006 visit to Kenya. In the District, free testing is available. Go to to find out how to follow the president's lead.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Teens Who Think They'll Die Young Take More Risks

June 29, 2009 05:37 PM ET | Nancy Shute

Teenagers tend to wildly overestimate the odds of dying young, and teenagers who think they'll be dead before age 35 are far more likely to abuse drugs, attempt suicide, get arrested, or contract HIV. Scientists have known for quite a while that teenagers tend to think that an early death is much more likely than the infinitesimally small risk it really is. What's recently been discovered, and is intriguing for teens and the people who love them, is that there seems to be a connection between having a fatalistic take on life and behaving in ways that actually make it more likely that you will die—or at least be sick and miserable—instead of blossoming into a healthy young adult.

Here's the back story: When 20,745 teenagers in grades 7 to 12 were asked about their chances of living to age 35, about 15 percent of them said there was at least a fifty-fifty chance that they would not make it. In truth, the odds of dying that young are almost vanishingly small. Interestingly, it seems that death is uniquely confounding as a risk, because teenagers aren't off base when guessing their chances of other life-changing events, including getting pregnant
, becoming a parent, being a victim of violence, or being jailed.

I think most of us parents tend to worry, on the contrary, that teenagers have a grandiose sense that they are invulnerable—that teenage "myth of invulnerability." But scientists who study human behavior and risk long ago punctured that myth. Baruch Fischhoff, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University who pioneered research on risk and decision making, says that teenagers may feel more strongly than adults do that life is beyond their control.

Given that, it's not hard to see how a fatalistic teenager could decide that risky behavior just isn't worth avoiding. The new data, which came from the University of Minnesota and were published in the July Pediatrics, found that teens who anticipated an early death when first asked in 2005 were more likely to have made a suicide attempt, been injured in a fight, had unsafe sex, or been arrested a year later. They were also more likely to have been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS in 2001 or 2002. This correlation gives doctors a new way to screen teenagers for the likelihood of coming to harm, the Minnesota researchers say, something that is surprisingly difficult to do. Parents, teachers, and coaches could ask if a child thinks early death is likely, correct the misperception if so, and explain that, since a long life is far more likely, it makes sense to take good care of oneself now.

There's an even sadder subtext to these data: Some fatalistic teenagers were more on target than others. Minority teenagers were far more likely to predict an early death, with 29 percent of Native Americans, 26 percent of blacks, and 21 percent of Hispanics expecting to die young, compared with 10 percent of whites. The fatalistic teens were also more likely to be poor. Minorities and poor people are far more likely to have health problems than someone who is white and well off.

There's been a lot of news lately about teenagers and mental health, including a call for depression screening of all teenagers by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Teenagers do indeed see the world much differently from adults, and I'm fascinated at how the teenage brain can be amazingly powerful, while also making teenagers do really dumb things. Think you know the teen brain? Try this teen brain quiz.