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County Health Department urges teens to avoid pregnancy

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Marshall County Health Department will join the nation today in recognizing the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. This observance was established in 2002 to focus the attention of teens on the importance of avoiding pregnancy, parenthood and other serious consequences.

Hundreds of thousands of teens nationwide are expected to go to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy's new teen Web site, www.stayteen.org, and take a short online quiz that asks young people what they would do in a number of tough and realistic risky situations such as peer pressure, drinking and gossip.

The quiz, available in English and Spanish, is appropriate for teens ages 13 and older. The message of the National Day is straightforward: Sex has consequences. The online quiz delivers this message directly to teens and challenges them to think carefully about what they might do "in the moment."

"Our hope is that in some modest way the quiz helps get through the 'it won't happen to me' wall of denial," said Sarah Brown, Chief Executive Officer of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Across Tennessee in 2006, more than 4,000 girls ages 10 to 17 and their partners thought, "It won't happen to us," but it did. The National Day provides a concrete activity to help young people understand that it can happen to them, and that they need to make a plan for avoiding too-early pregnancy and parenthood.

"In 2006, Marshall County's teen pregnancy rate was 11.4 per 1,000 girls, age 10 to 17, and that's too high," said Candace Wilkes, regional coordinator for the Tennessee Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program.

Babies born to teenage mothers are at higher risk for health problems and a lifetime of social disadvantages. Of the 3,552 babies born to Tennessee teens in 2006, 11.3 percent were low birth weight (less than 5 1/2 pounds).

Being born too small or too soon can lead to many problems for the baby, including physical and developmental disabilities or even death.

There are other negative consequences for teen parents and their children:

* Children of teen parents are more likely to grow up poor, live in single-parent households, experience abuse and neglect, and enter the child welfare system.

* Teen mothers are more likely to drop out of school, remain unmarried, and live in poverty.

* Daughters of teen mothers are more likely to become teen parents.

* Sons of teen mothers are more likely to be incarcerated.

* Eight of 10 teen fathers do not marry the mothers of their first children.

* Some research suggests that teen fathers have lower education levels and suffer earning losses of 10 to 15 percent annually.

The Tennessee Department of Health has a variety of services available to protect and promote the health of adolescents and to prevent teen pregnancy. To learn more about services available in your area, contact your local health department or the Tennessee Clearing-house for Adolescent Pregnancy Issues at 1-877-461-8277. A list of local health departments is available on the TDOH Web site at health.state.tn.us/localdepartments.htm

To find out more about Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month and the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, visit the Web site for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy at www.teenpregnancy.org.