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Sex, Substance Use References Common on MySpace Profiles

Brief e-mail from doctor may lead young adults to reduce references to sexual behaviors on site

MONDAY, Jan. 5 (HealthDay News) -- References to health risk behaviors, such as substance use and sexual behaviors, are common on adolescents' MySpace pages, but a brief e-mail from a doctor can help reduce sexual references on these profiles, according to two studies published in the January issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Megan A. Moreno, M.D., of the University of Washington in Seattle -- the first author on both studies -- and colleagues analyzed 500 MySpace.com profiles of self-reported 18-year-olds. Fifty-four percent contained information related to sexual behavior, substance use or violence (such as discussing sexual preferences, pictures of the user smoking, or listing fighting as a hobby), the researchers found. Reporting sexual orientation other than "straight" was linked to a greater chance of displaying sexual references (odds ratio, 4.48). References to significant church or religious involvement were linked to a lower likelihood of displaying health risk behaviors (odds ratio for any of the three, 0.36), the report indicates.

In the other study, the authors drew a sample of 190 MySpace users, aged 18 to 20 years, who indicated that they smoked and drank. Half received an e-mail from Moreno's account warning of the risks of disclosing personal information online. Three months later, the proportion of profiles in which sexual references dropped to zero was 13.7 percent in the intervention group and 5.3 percent in the control group, the report indicates. Changes in regards to substance use disclosure or setting profiles to "private" were not significant, the authors note.

"Because youth visit social networking sites, this is where we as researchers and health professionals have the opportunity to reach them. Youth will likely be more receptive to prevention and intervention messages if they can relate to them on a personal level using the technology they inhabit," write the authors of an accompanying editorial.

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