Teen pregnancy rates dropping in Mecosta County

BIG RAPIDS — With various television shows focusing on teen pregnancy, it’s easy to assume rates are on the rise. However, throughout the United States rates are continuing to decrease and hit record lows.

According to a preliminary report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of births to teenagers aged 15 to19 in 2013 was 26.6 for per 1,000 — down 10 percent from 2012 and the lowest number of teen births ever reported for the United States.

In 2011 — the most recent year state data on teen pregnancy is available — Michigan had a rate of 27.8 births per 1,000 to teens between 15 and 19 years old. That was a drop of 8 percent since 2010 and 53 percent since 1991.

“While reasons for the declines are not clear, teens seem to be less sexually active, and more of those who are sexually active seem to be using birth control than in previous years,” according to a report by the CDC.

But where are teens learning about sex and how to prevent pregnancy, as well as Sexually Transmitted Infections?

Whether teens are being taught about abstinence or contraception for preventing pregnancy, and whether they are getting that information from schools or other sources, the data for Mecosta and Osceola counties suggests they are applying what they know.

Both counties are on track to follow the state’s decline in teen pregnancy rates, though Osceola County has fluctuated throughout the years.

Mecosta County’s rates have been steadily decreasing, according to data from the Michigan Department of Community Health, and have not had an increase in pregnancies for 15 to 19 year olds since 2002, when the rate went from 40 per 1,000 in 2001 to 45.6 per 1,000. Since then it has continuously dropped, with the latest data from 2011 calculating the rate for Mecosta County as 29.2 per 1,000.

After four years of increases, Osceola County’s teen pregnancy rate has begun to drop, going from 59.3 births per 1,000 in 2010 to 55.7 in 2011.

“The optimal goal is for teens to receive sexual health information from parents, schools and health care providers because past studies show that information from multiple reliable sources is associated with improved health outcomes for teens,” said Laura Duberstein Lindberg, Ph.D., of the Guttmacher Institute in New York in a 2013 article published by the Health Behavior News Service.

What some may be surprised to learn is that sex education in schools is not actually mandated in Michigan, although HIV education is. And when teaching about HIV, and for those who do teach sex education, Michigan is one of 25 states which require abstinence be stressed, according to a report by the Guttmacher Institute. Discussion on contraception, such as condoms or birth control, is not required.

Big Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Tim Haist said the district does teach sex education, starting in eighth grade by following the Michigan Model for Health curriculum. It is later revisited in high school as part of a health class.

The sex education provided gives information on both abstinence and contraception, Haist said.

“It’s a sensitive subject and parents are always given the option to have students participate,” he said. “But we know it’s our job to educate the whole child and make sure doing our best to inform our kids, so they make safe choices. We provide them with information they need to do that.”

Morley Stanwood Community Schools has a different approach to sex education, offering the class online to ninth grade students.

“The online class has a module on reproductive health, dating and relationships, but does not cover birth control,” Superintendent Roger Cole said. “We teach abstinence education here.”

Reed City Area Public Schools has a mandatory, full health class in ninth grade, which discusses sex education, said Tonya Harrison, curriculum director.

This class builds on topics touched on earlier in students’ education, such as the physiological differences between men and woman and HIV, Harrison said.

“Abstinence is the focus for sexual health,” Harrison said. “ Reproductive health and life are more elaborate in this class. Pregnancy and family relationships are main focuses. HIV and AIDS also are revisited and presented in a more mature manner with vocabulary and risks talked about.”

RCAPS recently purchased updates to its “Sex Can Wait” program, a national abstinence program, Harrison said.

Other Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District schools (Evart, Chippewa Hills and Crossroads Charter Academy) were contacted for this article referencing their sex education programs, but did not respond by deadline.