After years of being near the top of state and even national rates, the number of teen pregnancies in Ector County has declined.
For 2018, teen births were at 76 per 1,000 for girls age 15-19, figures from County Health Rankings say. The high point was 2012 when teen births were at 99 per 1,000.
Since then, the rates have declined slowly from 98 per 1,000 in 2013, to 96 per 1,000 in 2014 and 2015. The figure was 93 per 1,000 in 2016 and 89 per 1,000 in 2017.
The state of Texas stands at 41 teen births per 1,000 and 15 per 1,000 nationwide.
Health providers said there are many factors that contributed to the decrease and they’re hopeful it will hold.
Gino Solla, director of the Ector County Health Department, was on the Student Health Advisory Council for Ector County Independent School District about 10 years ago.
“At that time, there were a couple of us that were advocating for a more expanded sex education in the schools besides just abstinence only because that’s all the school district had then. Being in public health, I think abstinence is a good tool. It does help with self-esteem, but you also have to … educate and arm the individuals as you would arm somebody to go to war with you — arm them with knowledge on how to protect themselves,” Solla said.
He said he broached the idea of expanding sex education to the SHAC at the time, but was overruled. However, a couple of years later, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center of the Permian Basin was brought in to develop a sex education program that would complement what The Life Center was teaching, Solla said.
“I think that’s made a difference because the data that I see in the county health indicators from 2010 to 2018 shows a phenomenal improvement in the teen pregnancy rate,” Solla said.
Stability in the population, the newly formed Permian Basin Coalition for the Prevention of Teen Pregnancy and STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and First 5 Permian Basin, a program through the University of Texas of the Permian Basin that offered programs for parents and children during the first five years of life.
“I think it probably takes a decade to see if the trends are going to hold,” Solla said.
He added that when the community comes together on an issue like teenage pregnancy, “the needle can be moved in the better direction.”
Lisa Platner, director of the Community Health Education Office at TTUHSC of the Permian Basin, said it took eight years to see “such a significant drop” in the teen pregnancy rate.
“One of the things that is also very good is that we also gained in the high school graduation. Not as much, but we’ve been seeing a steady rise in it,” Platner said.
She credited Rose Valderaz and the ECISD Teen Parent Services program for keeping teen moms in school.
“I think it all works together. All of us are trying to head toward the same goal — a healthier Odessa and a healthier teenage population,” Platner said.
Dr. Elisa Brown, an OB-GYN at TTUHSC, said teen sexual activity locally and nationally has declined over the past 20 years.
“This may be due to community-level factors such as increased urbanization and a concomitant increase in resources, available extramural and social activities. … Both nationally and locally, use of effective long-acting contraception is up. This speaks to the need for and the effectiveness of youth-friendly access to care,” Brown said in an email.
“Locally, we have had almost a decade of evidence-based reproductive education focusing on scientific, as well as morally informed instruction,” she said.
The combination of several factors has been shown to reduce the incidence of teen pregnancy. These include access to health care and contraception; effective reproductive education; community support, along with parental support; and peer education.
Laura Mathew, director of nursing services at Ector County Independent School District, said parents seem more open to getting contraceptives for their daughters.
“I think there’s more acceptance of teen sexual activity and at the same time I think the teens themselves and their parents are seeking consultations from physicians or practitioners to avoid pregnancy,” Mathew said.
Brown noted that the teen pregnancy rate in Ector County still remains higher than the national average of 24 per 1,000 girls compared to 76 out of 1,000 for Ector County.
The second teen pregnancy rate in Texas is the highest in the nation, Brown said.
STD rates, including HIV numbers are “soaring nationally and in Texas particularly among youth,” she wrote.
“Ector County has made great progress on reducing teen pregnancy; we need to keep up the good work,” Brown said.
- The teen birth rate in Texas declined 60 percent between 1991 and 2016. In 2015, there were 32,687 births to teens. Most teen births in Texas (77 percent) are to older teens (age 18-19). About 16 percent of all teen births were to teens who already had a child.
- The public cost of teen childbearing in 2015 totaled $418 million. Teen birth rates have fallen for all racial and ethnic groups, and in some cases the gap in teen birth rates by race/ethnicity has narrowed, but disparities remain.
- The teen pregnancy rate, which includes all pregnancies rather than just those that resulted in a birth, has also fallen by 50 percent between 1988 and 2013 (the most recent data available). As of 2013 there were 53,150 pregnancies among teens age 15 to 19 in Texas.
Source: Power to Decide.