Teens may not know risk factors for infertility

By Joene Hendry

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Canadian high school students may lack important knowledge about risk factors for infertility, survey findings suggest. For example, most students were unaware that some sexually transmitted infections can cause infertility.

“About 80 percent of students said they were familiar with the term infertility,” Susan Quach, of Sunnybrook and Women’s College Hospital Fertility Center in Toronto, told Reuters Health. But when asked more specific infertility-related questions, fewer students answered correctly, indicating a lack of knowledge that may increase their risk of infertility later in life, Quash said.

For example, more than 94 percent of the students did not know that sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia or gonorrhea can lead to infertility, Quash and co-investigator Dr. Clifford Librach at the University of Toronto report in the journal Fertility and Sterility.

The researchers asked 772 ethnically diverse high school students to complete a written questionnaire designed to determine their knowledge of and attitudes about infertility. The students were 17.5 years old, on average, and 49 percent were female.

A total of 608 students completed the questionnaire and, as noted, the vast majority did not know that chlamydia and gonorrhea can lead to infertility. About 25 percent thought fertility problems only occurred among women 40 years or older.

The researchers found that students from schools with low socioeconomic status more frequently gave incorrect answers and were significantly less aware of associations between sexually transmitted diseases and infertility.

Overall, about 73 percent of female and 67 percent of male respondents said protecting their fertility was important to them. Most also reported that their fertility was important to them. Fifty-five percent of the students said they were open to screening for sexually transmitted diseases as a means of protecting their fertility.

These findings highlight the importance of educating young people about modifiable risk factors for infertility, such as body fat, smoking, caffeine consumption, excessive exercise, drug use, and sexually transmitted infections, Quash and Librach note.

To assist the development of targeted and appropriate infertility prevention education, the investigators suggest that further infertility knowledge assessments should be conducted among students in rural or less ethnically diverse schools.

SOURCE: Fertility and Sterility, December 2008.

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