Q: Is Oklahoma’s problem with teen pregnancy disappearing?
A: Not exactly, but there is good news.
Oklahoma’s teen birth rates declined by 30 percent from 1991 to 2010, the latest year for which nationwide data is available. The state had 50 teenage births per 1,000 females aged 15 to 19 in 2010, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The bad news is that Oklahoma still has one of the highest teen birth rates in the nation. Its 2010 rate was fifth highest among states and the District of Columbia and well above the U.S. rate of 34.
While Oklahoma’s decline in teen births was significant, the national rate fell faster, by 45 percent.
Oklahoma’s number isn’t falling fast enough, said Sharon Rodine, director of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy Youth Initiatives. Too many kids are having kids, and the rate will remain high if there aren’t more prevention efforts, she said.
High teen birth rates are typically caused because children, mostly low-income, don’t have access to prevention resources, Rodine said. One of four Oklahoma children lives in poverty. The state doesn’t have a statewide health-education program for middle school or high school students, she said.
Teen pregnancy also can become a cycle. Children born to younger parents have a greater risk of living in poverty and thus a greater risk of becoming teen parents themselves, Rodine said.
As to what can be done, she pointed to North and South Carolina. They had rates about as high as Oklahoma’s but enacted programs to prevent teen pregnancy. Between 1991 to 2010, North Carolina’s teen birth rate decreased by 45 percent; South Carolina’s dropped 41 percent. She said public and private organizations must make a greater effort to educate Oklahoma’s children about teen pregnancy risks.
“Everyone always says ‘Thank goodness for Mississippi,’ since they are always at the top,” Rodine said. Unless Oklahoma improves, “one day everyone will say, ‘Thank goodness for Oklahoma.’”
Mississippi’s teen birth rate dropped by 36 percent from 1991 to 2010.