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Open Access Research article

AIDS knowledge and sexual activity among Flemish secondary school students: a multilevel analysis of the effects of type of education

Ronan Van Rossem*, Hans Berten and Charlotte Van Tuyckom

Author Affiliations

Department of Sociology, Ghent University, Korte Meer 5, Ghent, Belgium

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:30  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-30

Published: 21 January 2010

Abstract

Background

The behavior of adolescents puts them at an increased risk for HIV and other STIs, and their knowledge about HIV/AIDS is often inadequate. An understanding of how AIDS knowledge and sexual activity co-vary among Flemish secondary school students and of how education type, specifically, affects these students is limited. This study addresses the question of whether the effects of education type on HIV/AIDS knowledge and sexual activity are independent of the socio-demographic characteristics of the students.

Methods

Data from the Flemish Educational Assessment survey, which collected data from a large representative sample of third- and fifth-grade high school students (N = 11,872), were used. Data were analyzed using multilevel logistic and Poisson regression techniques.

Results

There is an indication that type of education affects both an adolescent's sexual activity and his/her AIDS knowledge; these effects prove robust for differences in socio-economic backgrounds. Students in lower status education types are more likely to be sexually active and to have poorer AIDS knowledge. The relationship between AIDS knowledge and sexual activity is, however, more complex. Although students in education types with poorer AIDS knowledge are more sexually active, within each of these groups the sexually active have better AIDS knowledge than the non-sexually active. There is also evidence of active information seeking by sexually active students, which leads to improved AIDS knowledge.

Conclusion

These findings are consistent with the literature on the role of the educational system in the reproduction of social inequalities. Students from lower status education types are at increased sexual risk compared to those from higher status types. There is also evidence of active information seeking by sexually active students, which leads to improved AIDS knowledge.