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US teen health site is 'misleading' on sex, congressman says

WASHINGTON -- A government website created to help parents counsel their teenagers about risky health behaviors provides ''inaccurate and misleading" information about condoms, sexual orientation, and other issues, a Democratic congressman charged yesterday.

The website, www.4parents.gov, promotes sexual abstinence until young people enter into a ''mutually faithful marriage to an uninfected partner" as the ''healthiest choice."

But it could become another source of contention in a health ethics debate that includes issues such as stem cell research and end-of-life care, pitting social conservatives and some doctors against liberals and many in the medical establishment.

The website should be removed from the Internet and a team of specialists assigned to evaluate the accuracy of its contents, Representative Henry A. Waxman, a California Democrat, urged Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt in a letter sent yesterday.

''The content appears to have been guided by ideology, not a commitment to providing parents and teens reliable information about sex," Waxman wrote. ''A federally funded website should present the facts as they are, not as you might wish them to be."

Much of the work on the website was done by the National Physicians Center for Family Resources, an educational and advocacy group that promotes sexual abstinence for teens.

''The website was intended to emphasize the healthiest lifestyle choice, and [President Bush] says that he believes abstinence is the healthiest choice for adolescents," said Dianna Lightfoot, the nonprofit organization's president.

Department spokesman Daniel Morales said officials had not reviewed Waxman's letter and could not comment on his objections.

Waxman asked four specialists to independently review the site. Although three noted positive aspects, all found problems in accuracy, balance, and completeness.

Dr. King Holmes, a University of Washington professor of medicine specializing in infectious diseases, said in a letter to Waxman that a chart on sexually transmitted diseases understated the effectiveness of condoms.

The chart on the site states that condom use ''is associated with some decreased risk" of being infected with chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and herpes. Holmes said the chart should instead read ''significantly decreased risk."

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