Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Girls' birth rates still low


Survey results released today

By Matt Leingang
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The number of 12- to 16-year-old girls in Cincinnati who gave birth in 2003 remained at near-historic lows, according to a report being released today.

The annual survey was conducted by Postponing Sexual Involvement, a local United Way agency that provides abstinence education to middle-school students in Cincinnati Public Schools.

The agency reports that 228 births occurred in 2003 among 12- to 16-year-olds who lived within the Cincinnati Public Schools district and delivered at any of five hospitals - University, Good Samaritan, Christ, Mercy-Franciscan Mount Airy and Bethesda North.

That's one more than the 227 births reported by the group in 2002, which was the lowest since the agency began tabulating data in 1988.

The number of births to young teens reached a high of 391 in 1993 and has been trending downward ever since.

The latest results are being released today to coincide with National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Day.

The survey reflects trends in teen pregnancy because it has been conducted the same way for many years. But the report does not claim to be a complete analysis of teen pregnancy.

Among the report's limitations:

• It measures the number of births, not birth rates, so it cannot reflect changes in the city's teen population nor compare teen pregnancy rates to state or national averages.

• It excludes 17-year-olds.

• It does not measure teen births outside the ZIP codes that feed to the Cincinnati schools nor city girls who give birth at non-participating hospitals.

The Postponing Sexual Involvement program doesn't claim credit for the general decline in births to young teens, but its message of encouraging teens to delay sexual activity until marriage may be a factor, said Christopher Kraus, an adolescent advocacy manager with Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center who is also the program's director.

Other factors: increased use of contraception and a concern among young people about sexually transmitted diseases, Kraus said.

The program involves role playing, where older teens provide instruction. Sixty-three teen leaders participate in the program, reaching more than 2,100 students so far this year.

"I feel like kids getting pregnant is not something that I approve of. And if I can do anything to stop it, then I will," said 17-year-old Brittany Pitts, a senior at the Hughes Center in Clifton who volunteered to become a PSI educator in December.

Teen leaders serve as believable messengers for the idea that teens can postpone sex and still be normal, Kraus said.

Children's Hospital also helps with PSI programs in Milford, New Miami and Highland County.

Nationwide, teenage births - along with rates of teen pregnancy and abortion - have declined in the past decade, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

E-mail mleingang@enquier.com




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