Milwaukee teen birth rate drops to 28-year low

  • Milwaukee's teen birth rate is at a 28-year low.
  • There were just more than 50 births per 1,000 teens ages 15 to 17.
  • Health officials attribute the drop to the education and prevention efforts, especially the work of the United Way.

The teen birth rate is at a 28-year low, the Milwaukee Health Department announced last week.

For Milwaukee teens ages 15 to 17, there were 50.03 births per 1,000 females in 2007. This is a decrease of 10 percent from 2006 and the lowest the rate has been since 1979.

Where Milwaukee fits on a national scale is difficult to determine, since the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Milwaukee Health Department use different criteria. The CDC uses 15 to 19 year olds in their studies, while the Milwaukee Heath Department uses 15 to 17 year olds.

Public health officials attribute the drop to the education and prevention campaigns, including efforts to target parents and boys.

"This news is extremely encouraging," said Milwaukee Health Commissioner Bevan Baker in a press release. "Teen pregnancy is a public health crisis in our community and this is one step in the right direction for bringing about change."

In May, the United Way of Greater Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Health Department announced their goal to ultimately reduce the rate to 30 births per 1,000 females between the ages of 15 and 17.

Baker said in a telephone interview that their efforts so far have paid off, and thinks their goal can become a reality.

"We are definitely headed in the right direction to meet this goal," Baker said.

Teen birth rates are used rather than teen pregnancy rates because information on abortions and miscarriages is unreliable, since many go unreported.

"The commitment to solving the teen pregnancy crisis is starting to pay off," said Nicole Angresano, vice president of community impact at the United Way of Greater Milwaukee. "This is the perfect example of how United Way donors can see their dollars really work."

The Parenting Network is one organization that receives the United Way dollars. The nonprofit organization offers a 24-hour help line and holds peer-support groups for mothers and fathers looking for help with parenting.

Jan Buchler, executive director of the organization, said the rates released by the Health Department are good news, but there is much work to be done. She said starting the city-wide education efforts at an earlier age is one strategy that may pay off.

"I'm so thrilled, but we have to keep it up," Buchler said. "Behind these fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders are second- and third-graders that need to have the same opportunity."

The Milwaukee Health Department focuses a good chunk of its efforts on education, Baker said.

The Milwaukee Health Department reported on its Web site that 60 percent of Milwaukee teens are sexually active, yet almost one-third of those studied said they did not use protection.

The department's "No Condom? No Way!" campaign is focused on alleviating that problem. The program offers not just protective measures to teens, but also education and advice.

But these projects and campaigns are just the beginning, Angresano said. It needs to be a group effort, and public and private donations are vital in moving forward with their efforts.

"We've got a lot of work to do by 2015 to reach our goal of reducing births to teens," she said. "That is why it is so important for everyone to give as much as they can to this year's campaign.

"In partnership with the community, we will be able to continue to fund programs that can help prevent teen pregnancy and get Milwaukee off the top ten list of cities with the highest rates of births to teens," she said.

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