LaSalle University health researcher Jillian Lucas Baker says fathers may be an underused resource in helping young people avoid HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

She wants to develop a program that would teach African-American dads to teach their sons about HIV prevention.

Baker said her interest is fueled by racial disparities in HIV rates. African-Americans represent about 17 percent of the U.S. population, but comprise 72 percent of people with HIV who are age 13 to 19, she said.

As a first step, Baker gathered dads — and other father figures — at a Philadelphia barbershop to ask a few questions.

"Are they having conversations about sex and what are some of the barriers to those conversations?" asked Baker, an assistant professor of public health in the university's School of Nursing and Health Sciences.

Several dads said keeping sight of their own goals and dreams helped them make good choices about sex. They wanted to do the same for their sons.

"Kind of getting their sons to talk about—'Yeah, I do want to go to college. Yeah, I do want to start my own business' — and how sex can get in the way of that," Baker said.

Looking ahead, Baker said in order for the intervention to be effective, she'll need to design a program that helps to strengthen the bond between some fathers and sons.

"I did have some sons straight up tell me, 'Dr. Baker I don't have a good relationship with my father so I don't listen to a thing he as to say, including about sex," Baker said.

Many health programs now enlist fathers to help promote child health, but being an involved dad is good for a father's health, too.

"They, for example, stop smoking and using drugs and start giving more attention to their own health because they want to be around to take care of their own kids," said Hani Atrash, director of the division of Healthy Start and Perinatal Services for the federal Health Resources and Services Administration.

Atrash said fathers can learn to be better dads. At Healthy Start the focus is on improving pregnancy outcomes and preventing infant deaths.

"We can educate and train and build the skills and capacity of male partners to be engaged in working and helping and supporting their pregnant wives and partners and achieving better outcomes," he said.