County's teen pregnancy rates down

County's teen pregnancy rates down

June 30th, 2011 by Kate Belz in News


Births to mothers between ages 10 and 19

2006 - 14.8%

2008 - 12.5%

Source: State of the Region Report on Health, Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies

2010 Hamilton County teen pregnancy rates by neighborhood

Amnicola/East Chattanooga - 29.3%

Downtown - 26.5%

Bushtown/Highland Park - 26.1%

Glenwood/Eastdale - 25.4%

Signal Mountain - 2.2%

Source: State of the Region Report on Health, Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies

Teen pregnancies are down across Hamilton County, but there still are neighborhoods with distressing numbers of teenage mothers, according to research compiled by Girls Inc., a youth advocacy group for girls.

The research brief, compiled from national, state, county and city statistics, is the first in a series Girls Inc. plans to release as it commemorates its 50th year in Chattanooga.

"It's part of our strategic plan to become experts on girls in Hamilton County, and this is obviously a critical issue our girls face," said Bea Lurie, president of Girls Inc.

In 2008, 12.5 percent of all births in the county were to mothers between the ages of 10 and 19 - down from 14.8 percent in 2006, according to the report.

Despite the more positive general outlook, Lurie says the figures still are alarming, especially when racial disparities are examined.

Among black women, one in four babies - 23 percent - were born to teenage mothers in 2008. That's more than two and a half times the percentage for whites and more than double the percentage for Hispanics.

The statistics also shift dramatically according to neighborhood. In four Chattanooga neighborhoods, more than 25 percent of all births were to teen mothers: Amnicola/East Chattanooga, downtown, Bushtown/Highland Park and Glenwood/Eastdale. In Signal Mountain, the rate is 2.2 percent.

The factors leading to high numbers in teen pregnancy are many and multilayered.

Some girls, Lurie explained, treat pregnancy like a tool: It's a way to get attention, status, free resources, and in some cases, a man. It also can be viewed as a way out of a difficult family situation, or foster care.

"It's an upside-down mentality," Lurie said.

Teen pregnancy is often more frequent in low-income areas, and the effects of high teen pregnancy rates can have devastating consequences for a community: increased high school dropout rates, entrenched poverty and higher infant mortality rates, said Lurie.

Hamilton County has the second highest infant mortality rate and the highest low birthweight rate when compared to the four largest metropolitan areas in Tennessee, according to the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department.

Ultimately, taking care of babies born to unsupported teen mothers can take a heavy toll on the family and community, according to Dr. Nita Shumaker, a pediatrician with Galen Medical Group and former president of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society.

Those babies are more frequently born pre-term and can suffer severe birth defects, she said.

"It's a bigger cost on everyone - on county resources, city resources, health agencies that can't expect insurance to step in. Not to mention the emotional and health costs for mother and baby," she said.

Shumaker said Hamilton County's recent budget cuts may further hamper teen pregnancy prevention programs.

County Mayor Jim Coppinger's 2012 budget proposes to cut $940,000 to the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department budget, which oversees family planning services.

The budget plan also eliminates funding for Harriet Tubman Express, A co-ed teen pregnancy postponement and life-skills attainment program that targets teen residents of the Harriet Tubman Development in East Chattanooga.

As of January, the Harriet Tubman Express program had only four pregnancies among its 1,100 members in the past two decades, according to newspaper archives.

"Cutting family planning - especially in higher-risk areas - is counterproductive," said Shumaker.

Lurie said that the community's call to action now should be a heavy push for better sex education. She promotes comprehensive, age-appropriate curriculum that is abstinence-based, but also introduces girls to the birth control and protection against sexually-transmitted diseases.

"It needs to include everything from choices and relationships to long-term goals," said Lurie, "But there also has to be open and honest education if they're sexually active."