PROVIDENCE, R.I. - The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has awarded The Miriam Hospital a five-year grant totaling $743,869 to study media influences on risk behaviors among young men who have sex with men and develop an online health media literacy intervention to help reduce HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among this population.
"In today's high-tech society in which individuals increasingly turn to the internet for health information - health literacy is inextricably linked to media literacy," said Kimberly Nelson, Ph.D., M.P.H., research scientist at The Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Health at The Miriam Hospital and an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior (research) at The Alpert Medical School of Brown University. "This is particularly true for marginalized populations and stigmatized behaviors - cases in which individuals may not have access to or feel comfortable asking traditional sources for sexual health information. The intersection between health literacy and media literacy is especially pronounced for young men who have sex with men."
The prevalence of HIV among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men continues to increase. In the U.S., this population accounts for 65 percent of new HIV infections, with younger men - between the ages of 13 and 24 years - having elevated incidence rates.
Because younger men in this population don't typically have access to developmentally appropriate sexual education specific to their sexual orientation, they often use online media to learn about sex and gay culture. Not only is this content often incorrect, but it can promote risky sexual behavior. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, online media may be a significant contributor to this group's high HIV infection rate.
Nelson said media literacy interventions can positively impact health behaviors. Her study will include both a research component and clinical trial. It will focus on developing online recruitment and retention methods for sexual minority males using feedback from five focus groups. The next aim of the study will be to develop a brief, online sexual health media literacy intervention aimed at lowering HIV-risk behaviors among this population using information from a youth advisory board and a cross-sectional online survey. An exploratory clinical trial will then be used to test the developed online sexual health media literacy intervention. Little research is currently available on at-risk young men, and no empirically supported sexual health interventions exists for this age group.
"This research has the potential to reach a wide audience of sexual minority males at that critical early stage in their sexual development," said Nelson. "My hope is for them to learn to be better informed and to increase their critical examination of online media, ultimately decreasing their sexual risk taking and reducing their incidence of new HIV infections."
About The Miriam Hospital
The Miriam Hospital is a 247-bed, not-for-profit teaching hospital affiliated with The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. It offers expertise in cardiology, oncology, orthopedics, men's health, and minimally invasive surgery and is home to the state's first Joint Commission-certified Stroke Center and robotic surgery program. The hospital, which received more than $23 million in external research funding last year, is nationally known for its HIV/AIDS and behavioral and preventive medicine research, including weight control, physical activity and smoking cessation. Named 2015-16 best regional hospital in Rhode Island and the Providence metro area by U.S. News & World Report, The Miriam Hospital has been awarded Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Services five times and is a founding member of the Lifespan health system. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter (@MiriamHospital) and Pinterest.