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Am J Prev Med. 1998 Apr;14(3):209-16.

Ability to measure sensitive adolescent behaviors via telephone.

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The George Washington University Medical Center, Institute for Health Policy, Outcomes, and Human Values, Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Washington, DC 20037, USA.



Difficulty in measuring sensitive behaviors in 12-15-year-old adolescents is a barrier to research. This study determined whether early adolescents reported substance use and sexual activity similarly in assisted paper-and-pencil versus touch-tone telephone responses.


Adolescents 12-15 years old completed confidential, interviewer-assisted questionnaires first in a physician office by paper-and-pencil and then at home by touch-tone approximately 3 months later. Adolescents were from a high-risk urban area, 71% were minority, and all had parent consent to participate.


The follow-up participation rate was 94% (follow-up n = 207). Test-retest stability was generally poor for low-frequency behaviors such as injection drug use, anal intercourse, and sexual behaviors in 12-13-year-olds. Test-retest stability was fair to good for common substance use items. Test-retest stability was generally good among females and 14-15-year-old adolescents, and poor to fair among males and 12-13-year-olds, for common sexual experiences in the last 3 months. Test-retest stability was generally good to excellent for all lifetime sexual experiences except among 12-13-year-olds in which it was generally poor. Internal consistency of the self-esteem scale was high using both response technologies. Both response technologies reproduced correlations between substance use and lifetime sexual experience.


A high participation rate and reliable data capture were achieved when assessing sensitive behaviors of 14-15-year-olds using touch-tone telephone response. Sexual behaviors were more reliably captured using a "lifetime" versus "last 3-month" reference period. Low prevalence contributed to poor reliability in 12-13-year-olds.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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