Oklahoma's teen birth rate fifth-highest in U.S.
BY GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer
Thursday, September 16, 2010
9/12/12 at 1:54 PM
The number of teen girls giving birth in Oklahoma in 2008 was more than double the number of female freshmen entering the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University that fall semester, according to a recent data analysis.
Oklahoma's teen birth rates rose between 2005 and 2007, moving up a notch to the fifth highest in the country, according to the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy.
The nonprofit organization has been analyzing data released by the National Vital Statistics earlier this year to break down and compare rates and numbers to other states, said Sharon Rodine, director of youth initiatives for the group.
"This is 100 percent preventable," Rodine said. "Oklahoma is not doing much at all to address teen pregnancy in any area. Other states are getting there, especially in Southern states. This is not a race we want to win."
The largest increase is among Oklahoma's 18- to 19-year-olds, which jumped from the sixth-highest pregnancy rate for that age group to second, behind Mississippi.
Oklahoma's rate is 111.5 births per 1,000 in that age range, compared with the national rate of 73.9.
The birth rate for 15- to 17-year-olds remains the sixth-highest in the country at 30.4 births per 1,000. The national rate is 22.1.
"We have twice as many teens giving birth than incoming freshmen at our two major flagship universities," Rodine said. "That alone shows you we are headed in the wrong direction. It's a magnet issue. It links to so many other issues.
"This is a direct path to high school dropouts, a direct path to unemployment and a direct path to poverty. This is not Oklahoma's path to prosperity."
The state's teen births and rates between 1991 and 2005 had shown slow but steady declines. The trend reversed in 2006 with a 12 percent increase in births.
Nationally, teen births rose by 5 percent since 2006.
"We made a dramatic reversal in the good declines we were seeing for 15 previous years," Rodine said. "The community has to decide this is an important piece of a young person's education."
Legislative and agency budget cuts in the past two years have eliminated some teen pregnancy prevention programs in the state and services to teen parents.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have about 50 education programs it recommends to address preventing teen pregnancy, Rodine said.
The programs are not sex talks, she said.
Curbing teen pregnancy includes working on decision-making skills, career and life planning, negotiation skills, self-esteem, relationship building and understanding consequences.
"The conversation needs to expand," Rodine said. "There are a lot of issues related to helping unplanned and too-early pregnancies and parenting.
"We need a strong message to young people that finishing their education is important followed by training for a career. Then, your best chance for success is starting a family after your education."
By law, schools must address HIV and AIDS, and many will include sexually transmitted diseases. But most are skittish to offer anything beyond that.
School boards, parent-teacher associations, youth development programs and religious congregations are necessary partners in a community-wide program to curb teen pregnancies, Rodine said.
"There is a role for everyone," Rodine said. "We need caring and nurturing adults in every young person's life - adults to share information and adults young people trust to talk with to get the guidance they need. We also need to work with and through young people themselves. Young people can be the prevention messenger."
Some groups are more vulnerable to choices leading to teen pregnancy, such as abused and neglected children or children in generational poverty.
"Let's start looking at the data and understand where we need to begin in investing more resources," Rodine said. "Our state needs to look at this as a priority and begin with areas or populations with the highest numbers of teen births and rates."
Teen birth rate rankings
State, rate (per 1,000):
National average: 42.5
- Mississippi, 71
- New Mexico, 66.1
- Texas, 64.2
- Arkansas, 61.7
- Oklahoma, 61.5
- Arizona, 61.2
- Tennessee, 56.2
- Louisiana, 55.9
- Nevada, 55.3
- Kentucky 55.11
Source: Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy
Original Print Headline: Okla. now No. 5 for high teen birth rate
Ginnie Graham 581-8376