For The American

Despite a steady decline in recent years, Oklahoma's adolescent birth rate still remains higher than the national rate for females aged 15 to 19, according to numbers recenlty released by the state health department.

Oklahoma averages one birth every 75 minutes to an adolescent female, or about 7,068 births to adolescent mothers per year.

State health officials are concerned that in addition to the individual emotional and financial costs of adolescent childbearing, the problem also places a burden on Oklahoma's economic, educational, health care and public assistance systems.

Oklahoma vital statistics data indicate that Oklahoma's adolescent birth rate was 56 births per 1,000 females aged 15 to 19 in 2003, or 33.3 percent higher than the national rate of 42 births per 1,000 females in the same age group.

The estimated cost of adolescent births to the Oklahoma healthcare system is about $24.4 million, thus every adolescent pregnancy prevented could produce a potential savings of approximately $3,300. The national cost of adolescent pregnancy is estimated at $7 billion annually.

Adolescent mothers often experience school interruption, persistent poverty, limited vocational opportunities, separation from the child's father, divorce, and repeat pregnancy, according to a recenlty released report. The report showed the factors cause the adolescent mother to rely more on public assistance and become less likely to have a higher paying job that would contribute to the state and local economy.

In a study using 2000-2003 data from the state health department's Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System, or PRAMS, health officials found that adolescent mothers are 1.8 times more likely than adult mothers to be on WIC, the special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children, during their pregnancy, and they were 1.7 times more likely to have their prenatal care covered by Medicaid.

Nearly 80 percent of unmarried adolescent mothers end up in poverty, according to the report.

In addition, many infants born to adolescent mothers are premature and at low and very low birth weights, which require longer stays in Neonatal Intensive Care Units and continued specialized treatment during their first years of life.

The PRAMS study also revealed:

More than two-thirds of adolescent mothers under age 20 had no insurance when they became pregnant.

Almost one-fourth of older adolescent mothers reported having a previous live birth.

Almost 60 percent of adolescent mothers were not using birth control at the time of conception.

Nearly one-fourth, or 23.6 percent, of younger adolescent mothers did not know they were pregnant until they were in the 13th week of their pregnancy

Adolescents reported, "...thought I could not become pregnant" as the most common reason for not using contraceptives.

More than 44 percent of adolescent mothers reported being below 100 percent of the Federal Poverty Level compared to 25.2 percent of adult mothers.

Eighty-one percent of younger adolescent mothers stated that their pregnancy was unintended, meaning mistimed or unwanted, compared to 73.5 percent of older adolescent mothers and 45.1 percent of adult mothers.

To address the problem of adolescent childbearing, state health officials encourage parents to become the primary sexuality educators of their children, using "teachable moments" to encourage discussion throughout the adolescent years.

State health officials also suggest improved policies, legislation, and funding to support adolescent pregnancy prevention programs, with priority funding for programs that target those at highest risk for adolescent pregnancy.

Additional recommendations include the provision of model programs that help pregnant and parenting adolescents obtain needed health care, finish school, and prevent repeat pregnancies.

To read more about the PRAMS study, visit

For more information about adolescent pregnancy in Oklahoma, contact the Child and Adolescent Health Division of the Oklahoma State Department of Health at 271-4471.

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