The Canton Repository carried an opinion piece
on Sunday providing the revelation that 65 (13.3%) of Timken High School's (Canton,OH) 490 female students are pregnant. The piece provided some additional statistics: "According to the Canton Health Department, through July, 104 of 586 babies born to Canton residents in Aultman Hospital and Mercy Medical Center — the county’s largest hospitals — had mothers between 11 and 19. That’s nearly 18 percent, or three times the total number of babies born at the same hospitals to teen parents living elsewhere in Stark County and beyond." Local folks took up discussion here
. The piece contained the line, "Suspects range from movies, TV and video games to lazy parents and lax discipline." The blogosphere elsewhere and talk radio had a good chuckle about how it was really sex that was getting these girls pregnant, and isn't it funny that their school mascot is the Trojans? Har, har, move along now...
Ah, but then there was time for the story to sink in, and your friendly women's health blogger still has some questions:
1) Who released this story, and why? This is not a tinfoil hat question, I'm just genuinely curious why a school district (if they released the info) would put out this kind of story while not providing any information on how a future three-pronged program "addressing pregnancy, prevention and parenting" will work. If I were in charge of the school, I'd have a fully researched and planned program, and then put out the story as, "Pregnancy rates have been unusually high, and we are hoping to improve the futures of our female students by doing X, Y, and Z, which have shown to make dramatic improvements in A and B."
2) Is this an unusual percentage for the school, or are pregnancy rates typically this high? A little trend data would provide some context. According to Stark County health department data
for 2003-04, the rate of births to teen mothers of Canton in 2001 was 42.7 per 1,000, while the county rate was 20.3. The rate of births to teen mothers with no 1st trimester prenatal care was 304.5 for Canton, and the infant and neonatal death rates are also higher than for the county.
3) Is there anything that would provide some clues as to why Canton girls are getting pregnant at a much higher rate than those in the rest of the county? Are there socioeconomic factors that play into the equation? What kind of sex ed is provided at Timken, and how is the rest of the county doing it differently?
4) Is there any data on the rate of sexually transmitted infections in young girls in Canton? I can only assume that if they're not using protection to prevent pregnancy, they're not using it to prevent STDs, either.
5) Do these girls have access to health care coverage or reduced cost services that will ensure healthy pregnancies and births?
6) Are there any existing support services to help these girls stay in school? My own high school provided a daycare service, through which girls interested in becoming childcare workers could get hands on training, and teenage mothers could have the resources to continue on and earn their diplomas.
7) Can we count out the media influence factor, given the seemingly extreme localization of the higher pregnancy rate at Timken, assuming that girls at other schools had the same opportunities to be exposed to the same media?
As this story sunk in, I thought of course about the implications for these girls' education and poverty status. The thing that really struck me, however, was the lack of real information on what the school was doing/teaching, how that differs from other areas of the county with lower pregnancy rates, whether this is normal for the school, etc. It seemed that this story went for the sensational rather than providing the full story, which I'm sure most of you aren't surprised by. It seems that we could try a little harder when reporting this type of news though, and accompany it with less media-blaming and har har-ing about how sex causes pregnancy. I'm fairly sure these girls knew that, so what is going wrong at Timken, and now what?Technorati Tags: public health; teen pregnancy