03/18/10 — Officials focus on teenage pregnancy

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Officials focus on teenage pregnancy

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 18, 2010 1:46 PM

Teen pregnancy prevention remains at the top of the list of priorities being addressed by the Health Department, officials said at Wednesday's Board of Health meeting.

Other priority areas are childhood obesity, sexually transmitted diseases, infant mortality and chronic disease to include heart disease, diabetes and cancer. The list was developed based on a community health assessment conducted in 2008.

Carolyn King, health education supervisor, presented the State of the County Health Report to the board.

"Teen pregnancy is a tough one, it's a tough one to solve," she said. "We do have two health educators, positions funded to focus on the prevention, who have worked in the schools working with young people to help them make better choices."

She said nurses are positioned in several county schools through WISH, school-based health centers, while the WATCH program provided a health educator at Goldsboro High School.

Grant money has been helpful in the past, but this year funds from a secondary teen prevention grant did not come through for Wayne County.

That's especially unfortunate because the issue of teen pregnancy is not going away, she said, and in fact, an estimated one-third of teens who have already had a baby will have subsequent pregnancies.

"That's a number that's really disappointing because we have either worked with them before or had our hands on them somewhere along the way."

Health Director James Roosen got involved in the discussion, citing not only frustration felt by the public health agency but also the issue's potential impact on the community.

"Family planning and teen pregnancy stats in Wayne County over the last five years, we really have not seen any improvement with reduction of the teen pregnancy rates," he said. "We have had 900 kids get pregnant in our county from 2006 to 2008 and 85 percent of those births are out of wedlock.

"We rank 27th statewide with teen pregnancy rates (out of 100 counties), third with Hispanic teen pregnancies -- 80 Hispanic kids got pregnant -- 10th with African American kids, so it's a huge problem and I think it's something that the Board of Health and I should take a look at."

The number of teens 15-17 years old seen in the family planning clinic, with some possibly being repeat visits, for the past year was 290. So there's definitely a need for services, Roosen said.

There is good news on the horizon, though. House Bill 88 -- Health Youth Act of 2009 -- was ratified and signed by the governor in June. The bill, outlining a more comprehensive sexual education program for students starting in seventh grade, is expected to be implemented in the next school year.

"I think it's going to be a major opportunity in some ways," said Roosen, who added that a similar approach was launched in New Hanover County 10 years ago. It reduced teen pregnancy rates there "substantially," he said.

House Bill 88 adheres to what is currently in place in sex education, namely promoting abstinence. But it also takes the education role several steps further, dealing with peer pressure, sexually-transmitted diseases and even promotes dialogue between parent and child.

Education and access to birth control will be advantageous, Roosen said, especially when considering the responses teens gave during a healthy behaviors survey.

"Sixty percent of our kids admitted they have had sex at least once," he said. "Kids are having sex so I think education and better access to birth control are very important topics."

That may not necessarily be politically correct, though, and Roosen anticipates the topic will raise some controversy within the community. Hopefully, though, there will be positive communication between the Health Department, school board and local legislators.

"In Europe, where they have adopted a lot of these policies, where they get the kids early and provide education and birth control, their teen pregnancy rates are often less than in the U.S.," he said.

Roosen also gave an update on the H1N1 flu situation. The Health Department was given access to $400,000 for flu prevention this season, he said.

"We haven't spent anywhere near that amount but the last numbers (were) H1N1 accounted for 97 percent of the flu outbreaks in the U.S. between October and December," he said. "Seventy percent of visits to Health Departments were people that thought they had flu. Right now it's at 2 percent."

Locally this past year, the Health Department administered an estimated 4,000 doses of H1N1, gave 2,900 doses of regular flu vaccine and shared another 2,600 with other Health Departments.

"We spent the money as intelligently as possible," Roosen said. Among the purchases made were an illuminated digital sign outside the Health Department, which provides updates and information about the clinics and services, and bought a new diesel generator, which will provide a backup power source and salvage refrigerated medications.

Mrs. King highlighted a few other efforts in the areas of childhood obesity and chronic disease.

Alternatives for more healthy eating came in several forms, she said.

"We have the local farmer's market (each Wednesday) located here because it does prove fresh fruits and vegetables to folks in the city, also our clients and the county employees," she said. "A Fit Community Grant, through the Partnership for Children of Wayne County, has been received to make more parks and recreation (activities) available to citizens. Plus Stoney Creek Park and the Knapsack program through the Partnership, and community gardens" at various locations around the city.

There was also progress made in one area of chronic disease, she added, that of heart disease.

"Our trends are headed downward," she told the board. "Although we still know that's the No. 1 killer, our heart disease rates are down."

She attributed the decline to improved lifestyles, specifically smoking cessation, increased exercise and better food choices.

Mrs. King also suggested a Web site, www.ncpublichealthcatch.com, which includes a profile of things pertinent to Wayne County.