Pediatrician will work to cut sexually transmitted diseases

June 21, 1999

CHAPEL HILL - National pride in being a world leader doesn't extend to the embarrassing reality that older U.S. adolescents and young adults suffer higher sexually transmitted disease rates than young people in any other developed country.

A University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill pediatrician who wants to reduce that health problem has just received a four-year, $240,000 Generalist Physician Faculty Scholar Program Award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation of Princeton, N.J.

Dr. Carol A. Ford, assistant professor of pediatrics and medicine at the UNC-CH School of Medicine, says she will use the money to support her research with the UNC-CH-based Add Health project, the nation's largest study of adolescent behavior. She wants to learn what motivates older adolescents and young adults to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases and then to seek treatment.

"Getting and using this information in the right way potentially could increase the effectiveness of sexually transmitted disease screening programs in the United States and reduce the overall personal and societal burden of these preventable illnesses," Ford said. "They are a very serious problem."

Ford will collaborate with Dr. J. Richard Udry, professor of sociology and of maternal and child health at the UNC-CH School of Public Health, as he and his Add Health colleagues gather information next year on 20,000 U.S. residents between ages 18 and 25.

Participants will be the same as those randomly selected and surveyed as adolescents in 1994 and 1995. Results of the earlier work made national headlines in 1997 because they proved, among other things, that feeling connected with family, school and religious organizations helped steer adolescents away from unhealthy acts.

Subjects will be asked to provide a urine sample that will be tested for STDs in the laboratory of Dr. Myron S. Cohen, professor and chief of infectious diseases at UNC-CH. Ford will determine what influences their decisions to be tested, to pick up their test results later and to be treated by physicians if necessary. She also will train resident pediatricians and internists how to provide high-quality health care to adolescents in clinical settings.

Ford, a graduate of Florida State University and the University of Florida's medical school, directs the UNC-CH adolescent medicine program. She served her internship and residency at UNC-CH, practiced medicine for five years in eastern North Carolina and completed a fellowship in adolescent medicine at the University of California at San Francisco.

Receiving the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation support was exciting and an honor because the process is so competitive, Ford said. Only 15 such Generalist Physician Faculty Scholars Program Awards were presented this year in the United States.

Since its birth in 1972, the foundation -- the nation's largest health and health-care philanthropy -- has made more than $2.6 billion in grants. Its chief goals are to assure that all Americans have access to basic health care at reasonable cost and to improve the way services are organized and provided to people with chronic health problems. The foundation also concentrates on reducing the personal, social and economic harm caused by tobacco, alcohol and drug abuse.
Note: Ford can be reached at 919-966-2504 (w).
Contact: David Williamson, 919-962-8596.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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