ATLANTA — Mississippi now has the nation’s highest teen birth rate, displacing Texas and New Mexico for that lamentable title, a new federal report says.
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Mississippi’s rate was more than 60 percent higher than the national average in 2006, according to new state statistics released Wednesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The teen birth rate for that year in Texas and New Mexico was more than 50 percent higher.
The three states have large proportions of black and Hispanic teenagers — groups that traditionally have higher birth rates, experts noted.
The lowest teen birth rates continue to be in New England, where three states have rates at roughly half the national average, which is 42 births per 1,000 teen women.
It’s not clear why Mississippi, with 68 births per 1,000, surged into first place. The state’s one-year increase of nearly 1,000 teen births could be a statistical blip, said Ron Cossman, a Mississippi State University researcher who focuses on children’s health statistics.
The New Mexico rate was 64 per 1,000; Texas was 63. New Hampshire, with a rate of 19 per 1,000, was the nation’s lowest.
More than a year ago, a preliminary report on the 2006 data revealed that the U.S. teen birth rate had risen for the first time in about 15 years. But the new numbers provide the first state-by-state breakdown.
“It’s pretty much across the board” nationally, said Brady Hamilton, a CDC statistician who worked on the report.
About 435,000 of the nation’s 4.3 million births in 2006 were to mothers ages 15 through 19. That was about 21,000 more teen births than in 2005.
Numerically, the largest increases were in the states with the largest populations. California, Texas and Florida together generated almost 30 percent of the nation’s extra teen births in 2006.
Blaming abstinence-only education
Some experts have blamed the national increase on increased federal funding for abstinence-only health education that does not teach teens how to use condoms and other contraception. They said that would explain why teen birth rate increases have been detected across much of the country and not just in a few spots.
There is debate about that, however. Some conservative organizations have argued that contraceptive-focused sex education is still common, and that the new teen birth numbers reflect it is failing.
Other factors include the escalating cost of some types of birth control and their unavailability in some communities, said Stephanie Birch, who directs maternal and child health programs for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
Glowing media portrayals of celebrity pregnancies don’t help, either, she said. “They make it out to be very glamorous,” said Birch, who cited a calculation by Alaska officials that teen births were up 6 percent in that state in 2006.
A variety of factors influence teen birth rates, including culture, poverty and racial demographics. For those and other reasons, kids in mostly white New England likely would delay child birth, said David Landry, a researcher at the Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based organization which supports abortion rights and gathers research on sexual and reproductive health.
“It’s more costly for youth in the Northeast to have a teen birth than for youth in the South, in terms of opportunities they’ll miss,” he said.
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