By Phyllis Sloyer, President, AMCHP
Welcome to this issue of Pulse and its focus on adolescent health and teen pregnancy. As a society, we are continuously stimulated with pictures of healthy babies and gregarious toddlers that evoke mental pictures of motherhood and apple pie. Unfortunately, we pay much less attention to the health needs of adolescents and the impact that their health will have on future generations of children. One of the most significant markers of our success as a nation is the rate of teen pregnancy. For over a decade, beginning in 1991, we witnessed declines in teen births. Unfortunately, the improvements ceased and now the birth rates for teens are increasing. According to the CDC, the number of births for 15 to 19 year olds in 2006 rose by three percent from the previous year; the largest increase in a single year since 1989-1990.
Teen pregnancy brings with it social and economic costs that have long term impacts. The national savings derived from preventing teen births are estimated to be about $9 billion per year; an amount greater than many states’ annual budgets. Teen mothers are much more likely to drop out of high school and be unemployed. Teen mothers’ babies are more likely to have long term disabilities or die before they reach their first birthday. Sadly, children of teen mothers face a myriad of social issues, including poorer school performance and higher risks of child abuse or neglect. The cycle of poverty and poor health continues to perpetuate itself from teen mother to child. Eventually, the pictures of healthy babies and gregarious toddlers fade.
Maternal and child health leaders have learned how critical it is to work with partners in putting together a constellation of effective and accessible services. Such services are rooted in science or best practice and build capacity to sustain the delivery system over time. AMCHP is committed to promoting a systems approach to adolescent health and well being, as well as evidence-based approaches to teen pregnancy prevention. An adolescent health work group is putting the finishing touches on a white paper that will serve as a framework for an effective adolescent health comprehensive system. The work group draws from the expertise our maternal and child health leaders bring to this critical issue. While teen pregnancy prevention is one of the key issues that our adolescent health programs address, we would be remiss if we didn’t include an approach to adolescent health that fosters healthy adults who are fully engaged in their communities. Finally, we must not forget the adolescents and young adults who have special needs and develop an effective and sustainable bridge to all aspects of adult life.
Franklin Roosevelt once said: “We cannot always build the future of our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” I hope this issue of Pulse serves as a stimulus for you to build our youth for the future.