May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention month, and this year there is much to celebrate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report at the end of April announcing that the teen pregnancy rates in America have fallen to an all-time low. The decline in teen pregnancy rates has occurred in all regions and races, but the most significant changes have been among Hispanic and African American teens, whose birthrates have dropped nearly 50 percent since 2006. This is really great news for tax payers; a new report released this week shows that the decline in teen pregnancies saves North Carolina taxpayers more than $389 million each year.
There are a lot of theories as to what is causing the rates to drop so quickly, including the rise of IUDs for teens, increased access to sexual health education, the popularity of the TV show “16 and Pregnant” that depicts the daily struggles of teen mothers etc., but overall, experts are definitely agreeing on two major causes—first, teenagers have better access to contraceptive methods and second, teenagers are simply choosing to have less sex.
Sexual health education programs have also changed drastically over the years. Many new curriculums are now incorporating lessons on financial responsibility, values, assertive communication, self-esteem, goal setting etc. Research has shown that this comprehensive approach may be more effective. In Jackson County, sexual health education is delivered by implementing the Wise Guys and Smart Girls programs by the Jackson County Department of Public Health in Jackson County schools. The goal of the Smart Girls and Wise Guys program is to inspire and empower students to make healthy choices regarding sexuality and relationships. Although teen birth rates have reached historic lows in the United States and in Jackson County, it is important to acknowledge that teen pregnancy is affecting far too many young people and their families. It is vital to continue to invest into sexual health education in the school systems in order to continue reducing teen pregnancy.
So this month, and throughout the year, remember how important it is to foster strong relationships with children and have those tough conversations about sexual responsibility and healthy decisions. Learn more about the Smart Girls and Wise Guys program by contacting Liz Cochran and Curt Collins, Health Educators, at 587-8290 and 587-8252 respectively.