Teen pregnancy forum outlines plans to cut rate
April 27, 2010
Lorraine Halsted - The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — State Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Upperville recalled the first time the issue of teen pregnancy became real to her.
“My first impression of teen pregnancy was my very first day of high school,” she said.
A freshman at Central High School in Woodstock, she stopped in a restroom and heard some commotion inside one of the stalls.
“I remember there were people inside the stall talking, and there was a girl in there whose water was breaking,” she said. “Therein lies the beginning of many people’s teenage years.”
Vogel was talking to a group of about 80 people who attended a community forum on teen pregnancy at Shenandoah University’s Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy Monday night.
Her remarks began the forum, Teen Pregnancy Prevention: Community Approaches to Improve Teen Health — the first educational event sponsored by L8RBaby, a local nonprofit organization working to lower the area’s teen pregnancy rates.
L8RBaby was formed in late 2008 shortly after the Virginia Department of Health released 2007 statistics showing Winchester had the seventh-highest teen pregnancy rate in the state — 62 per each 1,000 girls.
Since then, its 40-plus members have put 3,500 volunteer hours into developing a plan that will include a media campaign, educational events, and the launch of a youth health center, said Maria DeLalla, president of L8RBaby and a perinatal nurse case manager for Winchester Medical Center.
“There’s a great deal of time and energy that’s gone into this,” she said. “Teen pregnancy is a complex issue.”
Dr. Jessica Edwards, a gynecologist and obstetrician and a board member of L8RBaby, set the stage for the discussion by presenting a host of statistics about teen pregnancy on the national, state, and local levels.
In the local area, teen pregnancies have been highest in Winchester. In 2008, the rate among girls aged 10-19 was 46.8 pregnancies per 1,000 girls, according to the latest statistics available from the Virginia Department of Health.
That’s nearly twice the state’s rate of 26.3 pregnancies per 1,000 teenage girls.
While down from 62 per 1,000 teenage girls in 2007, the city rate is still higher than the 2005 rate of 42.9 pregnancies per 1,000.
Meanwhile, the teen pregnancy rate was 22.8 per 1,000 girls in Frederick County and 7.9 per 1,000 in Clarke County in 2008.
While teen pregnancies dropped 34 percent across the nation from 1991 to 2005, Edwards pointed out that that the United States still averages about 750,000 per year.
She said the nation also leads the industrial world in teen pregnancies with a rate that’s twice that of England, three times that of France, six times that of the Netherlands, and eight times that of Japan.
“I don’t think those are numbers to be proud of,” Edwards said.
She said poverty is one contributor to teen pregnancies, but noted that the media also play a large role. Some TV shows that center on teen pregnancy cast it in a positive light and “glorify” it, she said.
In addition, Edwards said teens who may lack guidance about sexual issues from their parents will likely turn to the media for answers.
“So media steps in as the latest, greatest sex educator, which is certainly a less than ideal situation for us” she said.
And despite beliefs that Hispanics and blacks have high pregnancy rates , Edwards presented statistics that showed the majority of pregnant teens — 40 percent — was white, while 24 percent was Hispanic and 33 percent wasblack.
Edwards also said the cost of teen pregnancy per year is about $9 billion on a national basis and $177 million statewide.
In addition to media campaigns and holding educational events about teen pregnancy, L8RBaby will establish a Youth Health Center, which a panel of L8RBaby members discussed in a question-and-answer session at the end of the forum.
Funding for the center will come from grants. The services will range from physical, mental, and sexual health to healthy-relationship counseling, and high-risk behavior education, DeLalla said.
Teens also can be matched with adult mentors and become involved in volunteer work, which DeLalla said would help them to develop skills, goals, and healthy relationships with other people.
“If we can provide a teen center where teens are interacting together in their community away from school, away from home but in the neighborhood, then maybe that would get them going in terms of goal-setting,” she said.