By James Tillman

SALT LAKE CITY, November 30, 2009 (—A recent study by a task force of the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) led researchers to recommend comprehensive risk reduction programs (CRRs), which include instruction in contraceptive use, over abstinence education programs (AE).  But two members of the study's external review team have released a minority report arguing that this conclusion is unjustified.

“According to this minority report, the study recommendations may mislead policymakers by presenting conclusions that don't match key study findings,” said Paul Birch, Director of the Institute for Research and Evaluation (IRE), a Utah-based organization that researches abstinence education. “The report is important because it allows differing views on this research to be presented at a time when Congress is re-examining sex education policy.”

The CDC's Task Force on Community Preventive Services conducted the original study, which led them to recommend CRRs, while saying that there was “insufficient evidence” to recommend AEs.

However, according to the minority report by Irene Ericksen and Danielle Ruedt, the conclusion “that CRR is a superior approach to AE … is not supported by the evidence.”

The Task Force's findings were the result of a meta-analysis of many different studies. But Ericksen and Ruedt argue that the researchers gathered different sorts of studies into the CRR category, resulting in a “very heterogeneous category that exceeds the limits of good meta-analysis design.” In other words, the study gathers together “apples and oranges,” mixing programs given in a classroom setting with those given in juvenile detention, and mixing those given in a health clinic with those given in residential drug treatment programs.

“The resulting internal inconsistency in the results indicates there are many types of CSE [comprehensive sexual education] programs that don't work, yet the study concludes that CSE programs are broadly effective,” Ericksen said. “This, along with the lack of evidence for school-based programs, makes the study's recommendations potentially misleading to policy-makers who want to implement evidence-based programs, especially in schools.”

Furthermore, the minority report states that “small size of the reported CRR effects on key outcomes was not discussed in the Task Force Recommendations.”  The Task Force's own data indicates that CRR programs only “increased frequency of teen condom use by an average of 12% and reduced sexual activity by an average of 12%.”

The Task Force itself admits that, despite its broad recommendation, as regards CRRs, “There is limited direct evidence of effectiveness … for reducing pregnancy and HIV.”

Moreover, according to the minority report, the Task Force had found a “significant reduction in sexual activity by the AE studies.”  They chose to say that there was “insufficient evidence,” however, due to inconsistent results between two different kinds of studies.  Ericksen and Ruedt argue that this decision is questionable because, among other reasons, “The measure of inconsistent results across studies was higher for CRR programs on sexual activity than for AE programs.”

Thus, the minority report argues that “meta-analysis provides credible evidence that AE programs have delayed sexual activity, evidence that is stronger than the evidence for CCR effects.”

The public, however, cannot yet evaluate such statements based on the data used by the researchers; the CDC has not made it available. According to a spokesman for the CDC, this is the CDC's standard procedure.

“Before CDC releases information to the public, it must go through the CDC's scientific clearance process to ensure not only that the underlying data are accurate, but also that 1) it is presented in a manner that is clear and not prone to misinterpretation, and 2) any inferences drawn from the data are defensible,” spokeswoman Karen Hunter told

It may be as long as one year before the information is released.

Ericksen and Ruedt, however, believe it to be “in the best interest of science and public policy for the CDC to release the meta-analysis data … so that the public can examine the full body of evidence upon which they are based.”

“Lacking this,” however, they have presented their analysis “to offer an alternative point of view on the interpretation of the study results.”

See related stories on

“Comprehensive” Sex Education is Ineffective: Abstinence Works, Major National Study Shows