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Teen pregnancy rate rises slightly in Utah

But officials say many Utah teens marry at 18 or 19

SHARE Teen pregnancy rate rises slightly in Utah

WASHINGTON — Utah was one of only three areas among the states and the District of Columbia where teenage pregnancy rates actually went up between 1995 and 1997.

That's according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Utah's pregnancy rate for females age 19 and under went up 0.3 percent in that period, to 58 pregnancies per 1,000 youths. That rate is still ninth lowest in the nation and well below the national average of 90.7 births per 1,000 female youths.

But the only other areas where teenage birth rates went up instead of down were in the District of Columbia (up 8.8 percent) and Connecticut (up 1.8 percent).

Nationally, teenage pregnancy rates dropped 7.8 percent.

Pregnancy rates are calculated by adding the sum of live births, abortions and estimated fetal losses such as miscarriages.

Utah health officials say Utah's tiny increase was likely just a statistical blip, or may have been caused by the state's comparatively high number of 18- and 19-year-olds who marry and have children. They added that pregnancy rate among younger teens continues to fall — and is among the lowest in the nation.

"I think our rate is lower than average nationally because of our culture and the religious influence here," said Lois Bloebaum, manager of Utah Health Department's reproductive health program.

"I'd like to take credit for the decrease among the younger age groups with the 'abstinence only' education program we've had going since 1998. But it's probably a little too soon to say that. We need more time to track (the data)," she said.

The birth rate for teenagers ages 15 to 17 decreased in Utah from 34.2 per 1,000 females in 1995 to 32.5 in 1997.

Meanwhile, the birthrate among those ages 18 and 19 went up from 91.9 per 1,000 to 92.6. "That may be because Utah has quite a few 18- and 19-year-olds who marry and have babies — at least more than most other states," Bloebaum said.

She said the Utah's overall increase may have just been "a natural statistical variance," because 1998 numbers compiled by the state — and not yet available to the CDC — show overall teenage pregnancy rates in Utah dropped that year. She noted rates also dropped between 1996 and 1997, but not for the whole 1995-97 period for that CDC data tracked.

While Bloebaum suspects Utah's "abstinence only" sexual education programs are helping create a downward trend in Utah, other groups were crediting other factors, including more use of birth control, for success elsewhere in the nation.

For example, Sarah Brown, director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, said, "The 1990s are making their mark as the decade when more teens decided to make caution cool. More are saying 'not yet' to sex, more are saying 'I did, but now I don't,' and more are saying 'I do, but not without protection.' "

The lowest teenage birth rate in the nation in 1997, according to the new data, was 48.2 per 1,000 in North Dakota. The highest rate was 249.7 in the District of Columbia.

The biggest drop by percentage between 1995 and 1997 was 19.8 percent in Maryland.

States with teenage pregnancy rates lower than Utah's were: North Dakota; Wyoming, 52.8; Maine, 54.9; Minnesota, 55.9; South Dakota, 55.9; Idaho, 56.0; Vermont, 57.7; and Wisconsin, 57.8.

E-MAIL: lee@desnews.com