Health Commissioner confronts teenage pregnancy rates

Photo courtesy of City of Milwaukee Health Department

Bevan Baker, photo courtesy of City of Milwaukee Health Department

As Milwaukee is fighting a bad case of the flu, Bevan Baker, the Milwaukee health commissioner, will appear today on “On the Issues with Mike Gousha.”

The program, at 12:15 p.m. in Eckstein Hall, will cover the city’s initiative to reduce teen pregnancies, an infant mortality rate that mirrors that of third world countries in some Milwaukee neighborhoods, homicide and the current outbreak of influenza.

Sarah DeRoo, the health communications officer with the City of Milwaukee Health Department, said Baker is excited to be on “On The Issues” because he wants to discuss public health priorities and what they mean for residents of Milwaukee as well as the way such  policies will affect health outcomes.

In 2006, the United Way of Greater Milwaukee and the City of Milwaukee wrote a report covering the status of teenage pregnancy.

The report found that Milwaukee has the second highest percentage of the 50 largest U.S. cities when it comes to teenage pregnancy. The long-term economic and social costs of teenage pregnancy were estimated to be $79,320 per baby.

The report also found that girls who are born to teenage mothers are 83 percent more likely to become teenage mothers themselves.

Once the report was released, Baker and Mayor Tom Barrett set a goal to reduce teen births by 46 percent by 2015.

In October 2012, the City of Milwaukee announced that the 2011 teen pregnancy rate in Milwaukee was 33.4 per 1,000 girls, down from 52 per 1,000 girls in 2006.

Infant mortality, the second largest health problem Baker is trying to reduce, also presents challenges.

“Commisioner Baker and Mayor Barrett work with the area faith communities to spread a message about lowering Milwaukee’s infant mortality rates and promoting safe sleep practices,” DeRoo said.

DeRoo said that since 2004, the city of Milwaukee has seen a 14.3 percent drop in the infant mortality rate, though African American infants still die at a rate three times higher than that of Caucasian infants. Data for 2012 will not be released and verified for several months, but preliminary indicators suggest the numbers will be similar to those for 2011.

DeRoo said that Baker and the Health Department continue to provide direct services to disadvantaged members of the population.

The city is also engaging in research and evaluating alternative ways to solve the issue.

Gousha, a distinguished fellow in law and public policy at the Law School, said he wanted to talk to Baker because he is at the forefront of the efforts to reduce Milwaukee’s health problems.

“Our series features interviews with news and policy makers, ‘people who are doing important, interesting work in this region and beyond,’” Gousha said. “As the city’s leading health official, Commissioner Baker fits that criteria well. As he would tell you, healthy cities tend to be prosperous cities. So how we address some of these challenges is very important to our city’s future.”

“I’m particularly interested in hearing why the initiative to curb teen pregnancies has been so successful, and whether those lessons can be applied to other public health issues, such as infant mortality,” Gousha said.

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