Usually when I tell people that I work in the field of public health, they naturally assume that I focus on physical fitness, diet and nutrition (these are obviously not the people that know of my love for Little Debbie Swiss Rolls). However, people normally do not assume that my focus is in teen pregnancy prevention. Why is it that people do not connect the dots between public health and unintended teen pregnancy? Teen pregnancy is associated with multiple social issues impacting the public health of a community, family and individual. Teen pregnancy is linked to foster care, early birth weight, premature birth, receiving welfare, and lowered educational achievement, just to name a few. Here are the facts:
- Young teen mothers (17 and younger) are 2.2 times more likely to have a child placed in foster care than mothers who delay childbearing until age 20 or 21.
- Teen mothers ages 18-19 are about one-third more likely to have a child placed in foster care than mothers who had their first child at age 20 or 21.
- Infants of teen mothers are at increased risk of being born prematurely.
- Almost half of all teen mothers began receiving welfare within five years of the birth of their first child.
- Parenthood is the leading cause of school dropout among teen girls.
- Children of teen mothers are 50 percent more likely to repeat a grade, less likely to complete high school and have lower performance on standardized tests.
- Less than half of mothers age 17 and younger ever graduate from high school.
Additionally, teen pregnancy impacts the physical, emotional, psychological and financial health of the teen mother, teen father, involved families and community. April is Public Health month, followed by Teen Pregnancy Prevention month in May. So this spring as you are watching young people enjoy some of the pivotal “firsts” in their lifetime such as going to prom or walking across the stage to accept their diploma, consider that in 2010 there were 6,847 teens (15-19 years old) who gave birth in South Carolina, putting them at an increased risk for drop out and the other negative societal issues as listed above.
So why should we consider teen pregnancy as a critical part of addressing public health? Because the impact on the community, family and individual IS public health.