Many public health issues arise because of the belief that humans become adults when they reach the age of 18. As a result, one of the biggest Public Health issues today is teen pregnancy. Teens are anxious to behave like the adults they think they are, or will soon become. To that end, becoming sexually active appears to be a kind of rite of passage. Although teen pregnancy is decreasing in the United States, the percentage of pregnant teens continues to outnumber other developed countries (Kost, 2012).
There are dire consequences associated with becoming a pregnant teen. Teens are much more likely to become ill, die, miscarry, have stillbirths, and have premature babies that also ultimately die, as opposed to older women (Luker, 1997). Teen moms are much more likely to fail to graduate from high school than their peers. Babies born to teens are more likely to have low birth weight, developmental problems, and are often neglected, abused, and live in poverty (PPFA). Additionally, teen pregnancy puts a financial burden on society. Every year approximately 11 billion tax dollars go to child health care, public assistance, foster care and the criminal justice system (NCPTUP).
In recognition of the need for teen pregnancy programs and the effectiveness of education-based sex education, the Obama administration transferred $114.5 million from the Community-based Abstinence Education Program in 2009. 75 million of those dollars were allocated to reproduce programs that proved effective in reducing teen pregnancy. Planned Parenthood believes that although this is a good place to start, no program can succeed without reassessing the mores and attitudes about the sexual behaviors of teens in the United States. Today, many think that it is not realistic to believe that teens will not actively participate in sexual conduct, yet most programs regarding preventing pregnancies only focus on abstinence. This paradox is further complicated by the fact that some people believe that sexual behavior is a healthy part of human development, regardless of the age of the participants (Zimbardo, 1992).
Although Planned Parenthood encourages teens to wait, it agrees that healthy or not, teens do engage in sexual activities. Therefore, it is imperative that policy makers provide funding for intervention programs that teach and facilitate responsible health behaviors. The consensus is that the best age-appropriate sex education begins in kindergarten and continues through grade 12. The best results come from virgin adolescents (Frost, 1995). When sex education programs are balanced, they encourage teens to wait until they are older. They promote safe sex practices, and yet do not cause early sexual activity (Kirby, 2007).
Finally, the Planned Parenthood initiative to reduce teen pregnancy includes males. This is significant because males are an integral group that often remain unrecognized in preventative initiatives. It is important to present pregnancy prevention as the responsibility of both male and female teens. Studies show that young men who engage in unprotected sex are also more likely to carry a gun, use drugs and alcohol, smoke cigarettes, and attempt suicide (Lindberg, 2000).
The strength of the initiative of the Office of Adolescent Health is its notoriety and its ability to reach millions of teens. The weakness of this initiative is that it does not outline specifically how it plans to accomplish its goal. Planned Parenthood’s strength is that it is very clear about how it intends to move forward. Additionally, Planned Parenthood includes young men as its target audience, which is a big plus. However, neither of these initiatives seems to include in their education of youth, that part of the reason teen moms are much more likely to suffer difficulties during pregnancy and childbirth, is that their bodies have not yet reached adulthood, which biologically occurs around age 30. Nor do they explain that, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, an adolescent is a person between the ages of 10-24, or that females under the age of 25 are at the highest risk for getting HPV that leads to cervical cancer later in life (CDC), and that males are the vectors and reservoirs of HPV (Olatunbosun, 2001). For better effectiveness of any educational pregnancy prevention program, all the information above must be included.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Human Papillomavirus. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/downloads/hpv.pdf
Frost, J. (2008). “The Impact of Publicly Funded Family Planning Clinic Services on Unintended Pregnancies and Government Cost Savings.” Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved.
Kirby, D. (2007). Emerging Answers 2007 Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Washington, DC: National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Retrieved from: https://thenationalcampaign.org/resource/emerging-answers-2007%E2%80%94full-report
Kost, K. (2012). U.S. Teenage Pregnancies, Births and Abortions., 2008: National Trends by Age, Race and Ethnicity. New York Guttmacher, Institute. Retrieved from https://www.guttmacher.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/pubs/USTPtrends08.pdf.
Lindberg, L. (2000). Multiple Threats: The Co-Occurrence of Teen Health Risk Behaviors. Washington DC: Urban Institute. Retrieved from: http://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/62731/410248-Multiple-Threats-The-Co-Occurence-of-Teen-Health-Risk-Behaviors.PDF
Luker, K. (1997). Dubious Conceptions: The Politics of Teenage Pregnancy. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.
National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (NCPTUP). Why It Matters: Public Cost: FAQ. Retrieved from: https://thenationalcampaign.org/why-it-matters/public-cost/faqs
Olatunbosun, O. (2001). Human papillomavirus DNA detection in sperm using polymerase chain reaction. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11239636
Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA). Pregnancy and Childbearing Among U.S. Teens. Retrieved from: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/uploads/filer_public/56/25/5625151f-3aac-4fcb-a861-1ab8ddb64a48/pregnancychildbearing_070814.pdf
Zimbardo, P.G. (1992). Psychology and Life 13th ed. New York: Harper Collins.