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Who Gets Credit For Tennessee's Huge Drop In Teen Pregnancy?

Tennessee has been in the top 10 states for teen pregnancies, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.
Leon Brocard
via Flickr
Tennessee has been in the top 10 states for teen pregnancies, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.

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No one's sure exactly why Tennessee's rate of teen pregnancy took a nosedive in the most recent figures, but their best guess: more kids are abstaining from sex. Tennessee's teen pregnancy rate has dropped for the last two decades as the national figure has also declined.

Over three years, the share of Tennessee teens getting pregnant slid from 49 per 1,000 females in 2013 to 32.5 in 2016. The latest national figure, which is still from 2013, is 43 per 1,000. But Tennessee likely remains in the top 10 states with the highest teen pregnancy rates (note, there is a difference between pregnancy rates and birth rates).

There's no single factor getting credit. In fact, Tennessee's school-based sexual education program has been criticized nationally for being overly focused on abstinence. But Ashleigh Hall, a program director with Centerstone, says sexual education is now a well-rounded curriculum that has evolved.                     

"I remember when I was a kid, they'd show you pretty gruesome STD pictures," she says. "We've gone away from the scare tactics, and we just keep it very factual."

Centerstone runs sex ed programs in Tennessee counties where the teen pregnancy rate is especially high, funded through a federal grant. In her experience, Hall says kids also don't seem as promiscuous as they're portrayed in the media.

There is data to back up Hall's observation. A regular survey of Tennessee students by the Centers for Disease Control found that since the mid-1990s, the portion of high schoolers answering that they had ever had sex decreased, as did the number claiming to be sexually active.

"We are moving in the right direction in Tennessee," Morgan McDonald, who oversees family health and wellness for the Tennessee Department of Health, said in a statement. "Though many factors may contribute to teen pregnancies, the positive work being done illustrates education and public health interventions make a difference. We have seen that when teens have access to information about preventing pregnancy, our teen pregnancy rates decrease."

Copyright 2018 WPLN News

Blake Farmer
Blake Farmer is WPLN's assistant news director, but he wears many hats - reporter, editor and host. He covers the Tennessee state capitol while also keeping an eye on Fort Campbell and business trends, frequently contributing to national programs. Born in Tennessee and educated in Texas, Blake has called Nashville home for most of his life.