New Data Reveals Teen Pregnancy Rates Have Fallen in Polk County
For the past decade, the teen pregnancy rate in Polk County has been among the top in Florida, but the latest figures show the rate has dropped. “Community partnerships and civil dialogue has worked to lower teen pregnancy,” says Dr. Daniel Haight, director of the Polk County Health Department and Polk County Medical Association member. “Healthy Start’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Alliance (TPPA) has pulled together a broad representation of Polk community members to help.”
In 2010, there were about five births a week to girl under 18, with an average of .6 births for girls 10 to 14 years old, according to figures released by the Healthy Start Coalition of Hardee, Highlands and Polk Counties.
The figures show a 51 percent decrease in Polk County and a 44 percent decrease throughout Florida between 1999 and 2010. “Progress in reducing teen pregnancy has been nothing short of remarkable […] There have been impressive declines in all 50 states and among all racial/ethnic groups,” says Sarah Brown, chief executive officer of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. “Not so long ago, teen pregnancy was viewed as intractable and inevitable. This report shows that too early pregnancy and child-bearing are 100% preventable.”
The TPPA is an organized group of social service providers, educators, faith leaders, health care officials, business people, parents, and teens committed to educating teens and reducing pregnancy rates.
“Pregnancy at such a young age interferes with education and creates a barrier to getting young well educated people into Polk’s workforce,” Dr. Haight says. “It is bad for the family, the girl, the child, and the community.”
The TPPA has been reaching out to the community at football games, in schools, at workshops, and seminars. “I’m glad to see that people are listening and the rates are going down,” says Marquinia Butts-Fisher, alliance manager in Polk County.
The group stresses the importance of communication between parents and teens. Butts-Fisher says discussions give parents an opportunity to share their values about sex.“Kids have questions and they want answers. If you don’t provide them they will seek it [elsewhere],” she says. “Don’t be naive and assume they are not talking about it.”
Teens also are taught how to be “proactive” and avoid sex when they are in situations they don’t want to be in, she says. Remarkably, this coincides with sex being much less of a taboo topic nowadays than it was in decades previous, despite the fact that some research shows that teens are having less sex than ever. Even so, adult entertainment such as that seen on adult sites is only becoming more and more accessible and popular, mainly thanks to the internet.
Dr. Haight advises making time to talk to your teen. “Know whom your child is hanging out with and who they are on Facebook with,” he says. “Give kids self-esteem about their body image and hopes for the future. Encourage structured after school activities. Be specific when talking about sex.”
Dr. Diana Wilson, a Watson Clinic gynecologist and obstetrician with a special interest in teens and Polk County Medical Association member, recommends they come into the clinic between 13 and 15 years old. “Some are already wanting birth control,” she says. “First of all, I always talk about abstinence.”
She talks about peer pressure and advises teens about sexually transmitted disease, vaccinations to help prevent cervical cancer, the importance of finishing school and the responsibilities of parenthood. She recommends teens spend time on things that interests them. Teens with less free time and strong family ties are less likely to become pregnant, she points out.
Preliminary U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention data for 2010 shows the birth rate for 15 to 19 year olds hit a record low, falling to 34.3 births per 1,000 teenagers. That represents a nine percent decline from 2009, making it the lowest recorded rate in nearly 70 years of recording data.
story by CHERYL ROGERS