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U.S. teen pregnancies down, Liberty’s up

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POSTED: January 3, 2011 2:19 p.m.

Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report citing a downward trend in the national teen pregnancy rate. However, Coastal Health District statistics show Liberty County’s birth rate for teen mothers aged 15-19 was higher in recent years compared with neighboring counties. Local health officials say this is because the county’s rates are impacted by the area’s military population.

The national 2009 birth rate of 39.1 births per 1,000 teens is down 6 percent from the 2008 rate of 41.5 births per 1,000, according to www.cdc.gov. "This is the lowest (rate) ever recorded in seven decades of tracking teenage childbearing," the CDC reported.

Health experts state America’s decline in teen pregnancies is due in part to more teenagers using contraceptives, usnews.com reported. Another possible reason for the decline is the shaky U.S. economy, reported www.care2.com.

The Coastal Health District tracked the pregnancy rate for teens of all races aged 15-19 from 2005-2008. The district

encompasses Liberty, Long, Bryan, Camden, Chatham, Effingham, Glynn and McIntosh counties.

Liberty’s birth rate among teenage girls was the highest in the coastal district in 2005, 2007 and 2008.

In 2005, the county’s birth rate among teens was 85.6 percent, and the district’s overall rate was 70 percent. Liberty’s pregnancy rate in 2007 was a whopping 110.3 percent compared with the district’s overall rate of 76.3 percent. In 2008, Liberty’s rate was 94.7 percent and the coastal district’s overall rate was 67.9 percent.

In 2006, the year when Liberty’s teen pregnancy rate was at its lowest for the four-year span, 76.7 percent, it was still higher than the district’s average of 69.4 percent. Glynn County’s birth rate among teen mothers was the district’s highest in 2006 with 81.9 percent, followed by McIntosh County with 81.3 percent.

"It is important to note that many military dependants, especially of the lower ranking soldiers, are 17-19 years old," said Liberty County Health Department supervisor Deidre Howell. "We know that the military makes a huge impact on our older teen pregnancy rates."

Howell said if one removed pregnancy rate data for 18- and 19-year-olds in Liberty County, the county’s numbers would likely fall more in line with neighboring counties’ rates.

"Liberty County is the only county in our health district that gets money from the state’s Adolescent Health and Youth Development program to provide family planning and other youth development services to teens in our county, free of charge," Howell said. The health department offers a "teens’ only" clinic from 3-7 p.m. Thursdays at the health department on Highway 84. Howell said parental involvement is encouraged.

She added the health department funds AHYD programs through seven partner organizations. Local youth programs include Project Reach G.A.N.G., Liberty County Blazers, Grow A Girl Network, the YMCA Teen Achievers and Team Hinesville and Riceboro Community Churches, Howell said.

"Their programming must focus on healthy behaviors for teens to include abstinence based teaching, mentoring, homework help, career planning, healthy eating and volunteerism … just to name a few," the health department supervisor said.

Unfortunately, touting a decrease in teen pregnancy rates could give state legislators reason to cut youth programming funds, Howell said.

"But the reality is, when funding is cut or decreased, the (pregnancy) rates (appear to) start creeping back up," she said. "For example, in 2006 (fiscal year 2007), Liberty County took a $29,000 cut from our AHYD budget; and our rates went up in 2008. Because of that cut, we had to eliminate an entire after-school program."

"Due to (state) budget cuts, I can no longer provide facilitators, curricula or supplies to these sites," said Christina Bolton, Coastal Health District Adolescent Health and Youth Development Coordinator. "Without incentives or assistance, the majority of these sites cannot facilitate or incorporate new programming due to lack of staff or funding within their own organizations. This results in the age-old question, ‘If they aren’t getting it in school, where are they getting it?’ The first step, education, is missing."

Bolton added one of the AHYD program goals is for area school systems to adopt evidence-based sex education programming, also known as "What Works," which are programs established by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, she said.

Evidence-based programming is defined as "medically accurate, culturally appropriate sex education … that addresses both abstinence and contraception for the prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS," according to www.plannedparenthoodaction.org.

What Works weaves this type of curricula with other programs, such as service learning, youth development and programs to open communication between parents and teens. These interventions can help delay sexual activity and prevent teen pregnancy, according to www.thenationalcampaign.org.

"Because none of our school districts in the Coastal Health District has adopted this (evidence-based) programming, we (provide) programming in other venues such as after-school programs, community centers, faith-based organizations or in individual schools upon approval," Bolton said.

For more information, go to www.gachd.org or call the Liberty County Health Department at 876-2173.

 

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