The Hippo


Apr 24, 2019








16 and not pregnant
NH ranks lowest for number of teen pregnancies


Granite State teenagers aren’t having any less sex than teens across the nation — but they are having fewer pregnancies. 
“What we know in New Hampshire is the rate of teens that report having sex is probably just about the same nationally, which is interesting,” said Tricia Tilley, administrator of Maternal and Child Health at New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.
It’s interesting because despite that, New Hampshire  has the lowest rate of teen pregnancies in the nation — 28 per 1,000 teenage females — according to national statistics released last week by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research and policy advocacy group. The study looks at 2010 statistics. 
The study found that across the nation, teen pregnancy rates have hit historical lows. There’s been a 51-percent drop in pregnancy, abortion and birth rates amongst females ages 15 to 19 from the peak in 1990, with a 15-percent decline in just the last two years. 
The report attributes the decline to an increase in contraceptive use and access to healthcare, and that’s true in New Hampshire, Tilley said. Forty-eight percent of high school girls in New Hampshire report using birth control, compared with 30 percent nationwide.  
“What we can surmise is kids are having better access to both primary care or access to family planning services,” she said. “We are always working hard to make sure our kids have access, and we want to make sure families are engaging with them. Parents are the first step.”
Embracing social media as an educational tool is an important factor too, said Jennifer Frizzell, senior policy advisor of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, because they have the potential to reach more teens. 
“Planned Parenthood has created an array of digital education tools to help young people stay healthy and plan for their futures,” she said. “In order to reach as many teens as possible we need to embrace social media and technically innovative interventions.”
But the information isn’t reaching all teens evenly. Even though the state’s teen pregnancy rate is low, it varies by race. Black teens in the state have a 25 percent higher rate than whites, and amongst Hispanic teens, the rate is nearly 40 percent higher. 
“We certainly see higher teen birth rates among low-income areas,” Tilley said. “We know certain parts of the state have much higher rates, like in Manchester, and Sullivan and Coos county. We know that there are pockets we can do better.”
In Manchester, there were 35.6 births in 2012 per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19. In Coos and Sullivan counties, there were 16.6 and 18.8 per 1,000 females, respectively, according to DHHS. In response to that, the department has put extra resources like teen pregnancy prevention programs in those areas and is continuing to monitor the data. Rockingham County had the lowest rates, at 8.3 per 1,000 females. 
Each school district in New Hampshire develops its own health curriculum. There’s no set sex-education framework for the state, nor is it funded by state dollars. 
As of the most recent budget, the state no longer receives a small federal Social Security Act Grant called “Abstinence Only Until Marriage,” which it received for about 10 years, said Frizzell. That grant required educators to teach “a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of all human sexual activity” and  “sexual activity outside the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects.”
“That was eliminated in the most recent budget because it was simply inconsistent with the evidence-based approach,” said Frizzell. 
Some recent research is showing that the non-glamorous TV reality shows like MTV’s Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant may be contributing to the lowering of teen pregnancy rates. Tilley said studies have shown that they have somewhat of a “protective factor.”
“Teens are not as supportive of being pregnant after watching those shows,” she said. “Teens are not saying, ‘Oh that’s a great idea.’ Even though the image is out there, the reality is those shows show it’s very hard.”
One study by the National Bureau of Economic Research released in January uses data from Google Trends and Twitter, Nielsen ratings viewership data and Vital Statistics birth data to try to measure the influence of exposure to 16 and Pregnant on changes in teen birth rates.
“We find that 16 and Pregnant led to more searches and tweets regarding birth control and abortion, and ultimately led to a 5.7 percent reduction in teen births in the 18 months following its introduction,” the authors wrote in the study’s abstract. “This accounts for around one-third of the overall decline in teen births in the United States during that period.” 
In general, teen moms and their children are more likely to be poor and attain less education. There are increased health risks too, like high blood pressure and preeclampsia, which can result in organ damage, Tilley said. 
“The teen mom is at risk for having a lifetime of lower expectations,” she said. 
As seen in the May 22, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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