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Russell is #1 county in state for teen pregnancy
In Oct. 22 Issue
By Kim Graham
Times Journal Reporter

Statistics released by Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services Division of Women's Health show the 2008 pregnancy rate among teens age 15-19 in Russell County is highest in the state.

In 2008, the rate was 113 pregnancies per 1,000 teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 or 11 percent in Russell County up from 9 percent in 2007.

"We need to hit hard and not let up until we see these numbers come down," said Shirley Roberson, Health Educator Lake Cumberland District Health Department. "Statistics show that if a teen has a baby, within 2 years she will probably have another."

Glamorization of pregnancy and low self esteem are influencing teens to have children early Roberson said.

She says girls see other teens receiving attention because they are pregnant and want to have their own baby.

However, a definitive answer to why more teens are getting pregnant is difficult to ascertain.

"I wish I knew why the teen pregnancy rate has gone up so much in Russell County," Roberson said. "It would be nice to focus more on self esteem and healthy relationships because it seems to be closely related to self esteem issues and kids not understanding what a healthy relationship is."

Between 1991 and 2004, teen pregnancy rates were on the decline; however, since 2005, the teen pregnancy rate has gone up 11 percent across Kentucky prompting state officials to take a new look at the issue.

 "In the spring, we held 11 forums on maternal and child health issues to identify problem areas," said Connie White, M.D. FACOG Director of the Division of Women's Health KY Cabinet for Health and Family Services. "Teen pregnancy was tops in most all of them."

So far, Dr. White said teen pregnancy rate increases have raised more questions than answers prompting a statewide survey of schools' sex education programs to attempt to assess what seems to be working in some counties to keep rates down.

"Our children need to know straight answers about sex," said Roberson. "They should be able to get information from a reliable source - if not their parents, hopefully someone in the school system."

Current sex education programs taught in Russell County schools are exclusively abstinence based to strongly stress abstinence as the best choice for teens because delaying sex is the most effective way for teens to avoid too-early pregnancy and parenthood as well as sexually transmitted infections.

"Russell County's school system is supportive of the abstinence based programs we offer," said Robertson. "Health teachers reinforce programs with curriculum that covers human reproduction."

Trends seem to be moving toward abstinence based programs with more comprehensive sex education including pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease prevention.

A national public opinion survey released in January by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy made clear that adults and teens view efforts that encourage abstinence as well as encourage sexually active teens to use contraception as complimentary not contradictory strategies.

In the survey, 73 percent of adults and 37 percent of teens said they wish young people were getting more information about abstinence and contraception, rather than one or the other.

The survey also shows that when it comes to teens' decisions about sex, parents are more influential than they think.

For their part, 43 percent of adults believe that friends most influence teens' decisions about sex while only 24 percent of adults believe that parents are most influential.

However, 31 percent of teens surveyed said parents most influence their decisions about sex-more than friends (18 percent), the media (7 percent), teachers and sex educators (3 percent) and others.

"My opinion is parents need to be comfortable talking with their kids about changes in their bodies and the responsibilities of being sexually active," said Roberson. "Many parents tell me they don't know how and aren't comfortable talking about sex with their children."

"It would be nice to have a program to help parents learn how to teach their children about protecting themselves from pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases," Roberson said.

Research closely links teen parenthood to many negative consequences for mothers, fathers, and their children.

For example, compared to those who delay childbearing, teen mothers are more likely to drop out of school, remain unmarried, and live in poverty.

"The national drop-out rate for teen mothers is 80 percent," said Dr. White. "60 percent of those drop-outs will not complete a GED and 60 percent of teen moms in the U.S. will live in poverty their entire lives."

Financial burdens are significant to taxpayers draining the economy from local to state and federal levels.

An analysis from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy shows that teen childbearing in Kentucky cost taxpayers at least $148 million in 2004.

Dr. White says reducing teen pregnancy will require a combination of community programs and broad efforts to influence social norms, values, and popular culture by parents, families, faith communities, and the media.

"We have a culture and we have to change it," said Dr. White. "That change will take time."

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