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National leader challenges District VII to reduce teen pregnancies

Forrest Alton
Forrest Alton

Forrest Alton, MSPH, chief executive officer of the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (SC Campaign), reported recent data on teen pregnancy at the Interim District Advisory Council Meeting in Memphis, TN, in February. According to Mr. Alton, six of the 10 states with the highest teen birth rates in the US are states in District VII.

In his role at SC Campaign, Mr. Alton leads the efforts of a nationally-recognized team to transform South Carolina by investing in young people. He is a national leader in issues of adolescent sexual health and teen pregnancy prevention.

Grant R. Cox, MD, District VII secretary and program chair, recently spoke with Mr. Alton about teen pregnancy prevention, including the critical role ACOG members play.

We heard a balance of two messages in your presentation at the Interim District Advisory Council Meeting. The US has made great progress in the prevention of teen pregnancies, but we still have a lot of work left to do. How can both be true?
On the national level, we’ve seen a decrease in the teen birth rate of more than half (54%) in the last 20 years. This decline is one of our nation’s greatest public health success stories, yet nobody is talking about it. Certainly, one of the reasons nobody is talking about it centers around the fact that the US still has one of the highest rates of teen birth in the industrialized world—and several states are lagging behind the progress we have seen nationally.

The news in District VII isn’t as positive as in other parts of the country. To this end, having conversations like the one we had at your interim meeting—bringing awareness to the issue, discussing solutions, and acting on those discussions—is critically important.

What are some solutions relative to the ACOG community?
Teen pregnancy is a complex issue that requires complex solutions. With that said, it’s obvious that physicians play a critical role in prevention. That role may include working to improve the teen-friendliness of their clinics or practices, ensuring affordable access to contraception (especially long-acting reversible contraception), and/or helping to improve conversations between teen patients and their parents. Physicians should be more involved in their communities, stepping outside of their practice walls and being consistent voices about the importance of providing medically-accurate, age-appropriate information on the topics of teen pregnancy and adolescent health. 

You stated in your presentation that there are long-term and widespread implications of teen pregnancy to the life course of teens into adulthood and also to society at large. Can you elaborate?
When children have children, we know that the life course of at least two generations is impacted. If we are serious as a nation about increasing graduation rates, decreasing poverty, improving health outcomes, and strengthening families, then we have to be more willing to discuss the issues of adolescent sexual health and pregnancy prevention.