Last updated: October 23. 2013 3:31PM - 1333 Views
By - cberendt@civitasmedia.com

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North Carolina’s teen pregnancy rate fell a whopping 10 percent last year to a historic low and, while Sampson’s also dropped, it was not as drastic as was seen across the state in 2012 leading to a ranking for Sampson that has actually climbed each of the last three years — from 22nd in 2010, to 16th in 2011 and now at 10th in the state for 2012.

According to new data provided by the North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics and released by the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina (APPCNC), the 2012 teen pregnancy rate was 39.6 per 1,000 15-19 year old girls in North Carolina. In other words, fewer than 4 percent of 15-19 year old girls in the state experienced a pregnancy last year.

In Sampson, the teen pregnancy rate was 59.4 in 2012, putting it in the top 10. That means that nearly 6 percent of 15-19 year old girls in the county experienced a pregnancy last year — there were 120 pregnancies in total — however that number was down 5.3 percent from Sampson’s 2011 rate, according to the APPCNC.

Sampson had a rate of 62.7 in 2011, with 129 total pregnancies, ranking 16th in the state, which had a rate of 43.8 in 2011. The 39.6 rate for 2012 meant a 9.6 percent drop for North Carolina. In all, 74 percent of counties saw teen pregnancy decrease in 2012, including Sampson.

Throughout the state, there were reduced pregnancies among girls of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, helping to minimize some historical disparities. Pregnancies to white, black and Hispanic teens dropped 8 percent, 11 percent and 13 percent, respectively.

In Sampson, pregnancies to Hispanic teens dropped exponentially, from a rate of 128.3 in 2011 to 83.5 in 2012, a 35 percent drop. However, pregnancies to white and black teens each rose, by 7 percent and 33 percent, respectively. Teen pregnancy rates in Sampson by age were 36.4 for 15-17 year olds (46 total pregnancies) and 97.8 for 18-19 year olds (74 pregnancies).

The teen birth rate per 1,000 15-19 year old girls in Sampson was 53.5.

Reducing the teen pregnancy rate statewide also reduced all potential outcomes of a teen pregnancy. Statewide, the teen birth rate dropped by 9 percent and the teen abortion rate dropped by 13 percent. Less than one-quarter (24.5 percent) of pregnancies happened to a girl who has been pregnant before, the lowest proportion of repeat pregnancies in state history.

That same trend was seen in Sampson, which had 25 percent repeat pregnancies, down from 31 percent in 2011.

Health director Wanda Robinson and officials with the Sampson County Partners for Healthy Carolinians, as well as Clinton City Schools and Sampson County Schools, have all aimed to reduce teen pregnancies through a number of initiatives

The results are being seen, slowly but surely. While Sampson ranking in the state has gone up, its overall pregnancies are going down.

In recent years, Sampson’s teen pregnancy rate has decreased significantly, notably from a rate of 86.1 in 2008, in which it had 192 total pregnancies and ranked 9th in the state in its rate. In 2009, Sampson had a rate of 69.6, which declined to 63.2 in 2010 and again to 62.7 in 2011.

Likewise, North Carolina’s numbers rose continually from 1981 to 1990, when the rate stood at 105.4, and has declined steadily since, with rates currently 62 percent lower than its 1990 peak.

In Sampson, the teen pregnancy issue is so important that it is listed as one of Sampson County Partners for Healthy Carolinians’ priorities for improvement, behind only heart disease, diabetes and obesity, and ahead of drug and alcohol abuse and tobacco use. From July 2011-November 2012, Sampson County Health Department’s Maternal Health clinic served 7 percent of clients ages 15-19.

Nationwide, researchers have attributed teen pregnancy declines to increased use of birth control, the availability of more effective birth control methods like IUDs and the Implant, and a slight increase in the average age when teens first engage in sexual intercourse.

“Most counties have nearly eliminated pregnancies to minors, which is a tremendous victory,” said APPCNC CEO Kay Phillips. “The best way for us to make additional progress overall is by helping our state’s medical providers connect young adults with the most effective forms of birth control and by helping our young adults know how and where to access the health care they need.”

Advocates note that the most effective solutions for reducing 18-19 year old pregnancies connect these teens – most of whom are already sexually active – with effective birth control methods, largely through clinic outreach and social marketing to this traditionally hard-to-reach demographic group.

In presenting a 2012 State of the County Health (SOTCH) Report earlier this year, Sampson County Health Department preparedness coordinator Kathie Johnson noted Sampson’s 2011 poor ranking for teen pregnancy.

“That is not something that we should be very proud of,” said Johnson. “It is something that we really, really, truly need to work toward reducing dramatically.”

Robinson has noted a variety of programs offered to assist in the prevention of teen pregnancy, as well as partnerships with Academic Abundance to educate teens about family planning and sexually-transmitted diseases, which reached more than 100 high school students during the 2011-2012 school year. For local schools, a modification of the state’s sex-education curriculum, effective 2010-11, was implemented as part of the Healthy Youth Act, requiring schools to include that kind of information regarding STD rates and contraception.

Those efforts have continued since.

“These programs all assist teens with information and educational opportunities to prevent pregnancy, and, if they happen to become pregnant, where to turn for help for those getting in that situation,” Robinson has said.

While national research highlights the success of birth control use, the positive trends in younger pregnancies and shrinking racial disparities point in part to the successes of those strategically-placed proven programs, which tend to focus on younger teens and more at-risk demographic groups.

“In the past two decades, our teen pregnancy rate has been cut by more than half,” notes Phillips. “We couldn’t have seen that level of success without a combination of things: medical trends, smart public policy, and – without question – really effective, strategic prevention programs.”

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at cberendt@civitasmedia.com.

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