Media Contact: Keith.O’Connor@baystatehealth.org, 413-794-7656
SPRINGFIELD – For the first time in 70 years, birthrates for teens age 15 to19 years are at their lowest, dropping 9% nationally from 2009 to 2010.
But, locally, there is still grounds for concern. In 2009, for the seventh year in a row, Holyoke had the highest teen birth rate, with Springfield following close behind in fourth place. Both cities have large disparities in teen birth rates given their population. In Holyoke, for example, the Hispanic teen birth rate, 132, was five times the rate for white teens.
May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, designed to increase public awareness and commitment to teen pregnancy prevention. Its message – teen pregnancy and early childbearing carries tremendous emotional, physical, and financial ramifications for the parents, child and the community.
Dr. Sarah Perez-McAdoo, formerly of the Department of General Obstetrics and Gynecology at Baystate Medical Center, is now devoting her time to working in the community as director of the YEAH! Network. She believes the causes of high teen birth rates are numerous.
“There are multiple risks and protective factors, such as access to sexual health education, condoms, and contraceptives for sexually-active youth, and how an adolescent sees his or her future whether filled with opportunity or out of their reach,” said Dr. Perez-McAdoo.
Dr. Matthew Sadof, a pediatrician at Baystate High Street Health Center – Pediatrics, who has worked closely with Dr. Perez-McAdoo, attributes the drop in teen birthrates in part to preventive education.
“Sex education in recent years has been more extensive. Teens better understand the consequences of unsafe sex and talking more with their parents seems to be having an impact,” said Dr. Sadof.
The Baystate physician – who also serves as pediatrician for the Springfield Public Schools – noted the efforts being made by school officials to prevent teen pregnancy as a way of allowing students to focus on their education. A policy – approved by the Springfield School Committee in April – will allow students who are sexually active access to condoms, though not freely distributed, from the school nurse. The policy will allow students age 12 and older to see a health professional, receive abstinence education, counseling, and instruction on the proper use of a condom. Parents have the option to opt their children out of this program when it goes into effect September.
Dr. Laura Koenigs, a pediatrician who specializes in adolescent medicine at Baystate Children’s Hospital, co-authored a study which was the basis for the Springfield policy, comparing rates of sexually transmitted infections among teens in Holyoke before and after condom availability was implemented.
Dr. Koenigs’ study found that sexually transmitted infections, such as gonorrhea and Chlamydia, in boys age 15-19 decreased by 47% after condoms were made available.
But the doctors said there is still a long way to go.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in late April reported that STDs – including Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis – are on the rise in Massachusetts with 21,000 cases reported in 2010 compared to 15,000 in 2006. In Springfield, alone, the number of newly reported cases in 2010 was over 1,800.
Dr. Patricia Bailey-Sarnelli of the Division of General Obstetrics and Gynecology at Baystate Medical Center believes that adolescents are of the mindset that they won’t contract a sexually transmitted disease.
“There is a misconception among the public about the risk of STDs and how many people are affected – a troubling 20 percent of the population has herpes,” she said.
Dr. Sadof suggests that teens follow their ABCs.
“A is for abstinence and holding off from sex for as long as possible. B is for ‘be faithful’ and limit your number of partners. And C is for condoms and contraception, always, always, always,” said Dr. Sadof.
Also, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy has their own tips for parents:
- Be clear about your own sexual values and attitudes.
- Talk with your children early and often about sex, and be specific.
- Supervise and monitor your children and adolescents.
- Know your children's friends and their families.
- Discourage early, frequent, and steady dating.
- Take a strong stand against your daughter dating a boy significantly older than she is. And, don't allow your son to develop an intense relationship with a girl much younger than he is.
- Help your teenagers have options for the future that are more attractive than early pregnancy and parenthood.
- Let your kids know that you value education highly.
- Know what your kids are watching, reading, and listening to.
- These first nine tips for helping your children avoid teen pregnancy work best when they occur as part of strong, close relationships with your children that are built from an early age.
So, what’s a community to do?
According to Dr. Perez-McAdoo, research has shown that no one person, program, policy, or single organization can solve teen birthrates on their own.
“We need a solid approach of combined efforts from schools, policy makers, medical providers, businesses, funders, faith and community organizations, and most importantly, parents,” she said.
For more information about Baystate Children’s Hospital, visit baystatehealth.org/bch, or for more information on Baystate Medical Center, visit baystatehealth.org/bmc.