Study Shows Texas Leads Nation in Teen Birth Rate

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HOUSTON — Texas had the nation's highest birth rate among teenagers ages 15 to 19 in 2004, according to a newly released study of children's health.

The Kids Count study, which is updated annually by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore, said the Texas rate of 63 births per 1,000 teens remained the same from 2003 to 2004.

Texas tied New Mexico and Mississippi for the top spot in 2003, but both of those states saw their rates decline in 2004. The average rate nationally was 41 births per 1,000 teens in 2004.

Texas mirrored the rest of the nation in reporting a steep decline in teen births since at least 1990.

"Texas has been showing improvement, but other states are showing more improvement," said Frances Deviney, director of Texas Kids Count and a senior research associate for the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin.

According to the study, Hispanic teens are more than 3 1/2 times as likely as Anglos to have a baby. Blacks are more than twice as likely as their white peers to give birth.

Observers were divided on whether Texas' emphasis on abstinence in sex education contributes to the state's relatively high numbers. A 1995 law requires school districts to emphasize abstinence in sex education classes.

"It's a touchy subject," said Robert Sanborn, president of Children at Risk. "We can preach abstinence quite a bit, and there is nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't affect some kids, and apparently it's really not working in Texas."

Don McLeroy, president of the State Board of Education, noted that sex education is mainly a local issue, with state law requiring each district to have a local committee that decides what will be taught.

"The idea that just giving them a lot of information is going to solve it, I think, is kind of naive," he said. "Certainly, it's more of a societal problem than it is a school problem."

Christine Markham, an assistant professor for health promotion and behavioral science at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, said her studies of sexually active middle schoolers showed that educators need to provide information to students about sexual health and development before they reach high school.

"A lot of parents want to talk to their child about sex and dating, but they don't know how to start the conversation," she said.