Study: Mississippi leads nation in teen births

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 20, 2001

The Associated Press

Tuesday, February 20, 2001

JACKSON —

Newborns in Mississippi began life somewhat healthier

in the late 1990s than they did at the start of the decade, but

the state led the nation in the percentage of births to teenagers,

according to a new report.

In 1998, 20 percent of births in Mississippi were to teens,

compared with 12.5 percent nationally, according to ”The Right

Start” report being released Tuesday by the research firm Child

Trends and Kids Count, a project that produces an annual survey

on child well-being.

”It’s disappointing but not surprising,” said Jane Boykin,

president of the nonprofit Mississippi Forum on Children and Families

in Jackson. ”We’re making progress, it’s just that we have so

much progress to make up.”

Mississippi ranked worst among states in the percentage of

repeat teen births, births to unmarried women and pre-term births.

The state was above the national average in all eight categories

that researchers studied, but the numbers in five of those were

better in 1998 than they were eight years earlier.

Neighboring states Louisiana, Arkansas and Alabama joined Mississippi

near the bottom in several categories.

”We’re getting better, but we’re not closing the gap,” Boykin

said. ”We can’t solve these problems the way they’ve always been

solved. We’re going to have to get creative.”

Boykin said the state House of Representatives has passed legislation

that would make it easier for children to enroll in Medicaid and

CHIP, a state health insurance program. The measure is before

the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee. She said the Legislature

also is considering measures to include dental health benefits

in the state’s Child Health Benefit Plan and to reauthorize the

Infant Mortality Task Force.

Boykin said increased access to preventive health care is central

to continued progress and healthier babies in Mississippi.

”It’s important to expand support services, particularly to

first-time and young parents,” she said. ”Every year about 40,000

new babies are born in Mississippi. Unless we take aggressive

action quickly, we’re adding problem births faster than we’re

adding solutions.”

The report says that many conditions related to birth are linked

to later developmental problems.

William O’Hare, who runs the Kids Count program at the Annie

E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore, said a report with ”reliable

statistical information on children often stimulates discussion

among state leaders regarding programs and policies to improve

child well-being.”