09/16/10 — Health Board: Sex ed will help

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Health Board: Sex ed will help

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 16, 2010 1:46 PM

The state-mandated comprehensive health education program -- which includes a sexual education component -- could be "good news" when it comes to teen pregnancy prevention, said Health Director James Roosen.

At Wednesday's Board of Health meeting, Roosen said he is increasingly concerned with the economic burden created by teen births.

"One of the big factors we have for teen pregnancy is it's costing our country a lot of money," he said. "It's extremely expensive for teenagers to have babies."

Typically, Roosen said, teen parents end up dropping out of high school, not continuing their education and the problem "extends across several generations."

Costs for the problem have to be absorbed somewhere, and usually it is by the community. In 2004, for example, Roosen said Wayne County's cost for teen pregnancy was $312 million for such services as WIC, or Women, Infant and Children, Medicaid and food stamps.

"The last time I looked, North Carolina ranked ninth in the nation for teen pregnancy rates, but we have seen a pretty good drop (in Wayne County) since 1992," he said. "For the past six years, it has stayed right about the same."

Roosen has been very vocal about the need for better access to birth control and education. It has worked in European countries and even in the N.C. counties that have been offering a more comprehensive health education program in recent years.

He said he is pleased that the state Board of Education recently mandated the program be taught in the middle schools this year.

"The good news is we're going to begin sexual education for our kids in grades 7-8," he said. "They'll be better-informed."

The policy was passed by the Wayne County school board at its September meeting.

"We adopt those policies that the state Board of Education sends to us, as is," explained Allison Pridgen, director of student support services.

At the August meeting, there had been some discussion about some of the wording in the policy regarding whether "abstinence before marriage" would be part of the curriculum. Mrs. Pridgen explained the policy calls for an "age-appropriate" curriculum, meaning that the younger grades would not be as in-depth in their approach to the subject.

Mrs. Pridgen also pointed out that parents will have a say as to which curriculum their child is taught.

"They can choose abstinence-only or the comprehensive," she said. "But don't let the word 'comprehensive' make you think it's comprehensive because it's not. It's the very basic facts."

The curriculum will be developed locally, Mrs. Pridgen said, with input from a variety of community entities, including the Health Department, hospital and WATCH, or Wayne Action Teams for Community Health.

Roosen said he is familiar with similar efforts in other counties around the state and has been impressed with the results.

"About 90 percent of the parents there opt to have the comprehensive sex ed done," he said. "They receive information that's in line with their understanding at that age.

"I think it's going to be a good thing (for Wayne County). It's going to make a difference in reducing our teen pregnancy rates."

Dr. Kim Larson, board of health chairman, suggested the topic be incorporated into the board's mission.

"Perhaps the board could consider in its next strategic plan a focus on teen health," she said. "I think pregnancy is one issue facing teens but I think obesity is also a factor, along with dental health, certainly sexually transmitted diseases. Should that be a focus of the Board of Health in the future? ...

"Maybe we could do that, have one of our goals for the future to be teen health, for future discussion."