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Teen Pregnancy - Removing Barriers for Rural Youth

by Makayla Bretschneider

December 2020

In rural counties, approximately 5% of young women age 15-19 become unexpectedly pregnant. For perspective, the rate of teen pregnancy in the local health department's Countryside Public Health service area is nearly 25% higher compared to Minnesota's overall state rate.

Why do rural teens have a higher pregnancy rate? Studies show they are more likely to be intimate and less likely to use contraception. Living in a small, connected community also creates a barrier for teens in rural areas. They often know the pharmacist, pharmacy staff, and other influential community adult leaders in the community they might encounter when obtaining contraception. This may make teens feel nervous or embarrassed and prevent them from seeking what they need.

Though Big Stone County might seem to have small numbers, the consequences of teen pregnancy are linked to several significant public health and social issues: healthcare costs, often need for teen mother and child to require public assistance, and income loss due to reduced earning potential from a young woman's difficulty in getting her education. The children, too, are more likely to drop out of high school, be jailed during teenage years, and face unemployment as a young adult.

Options for providing a safe and confidential place for teens to learn more about pregnancy prevention include the community clinic system in Big Stone County and the Southwestern Minnesota Opportunity Council (SMOC) Family Planning which is a program providing family planning services for 15 counties in southwestern Minnesota. SMOC offers many health services, like physical exams, education, and counseling by qualified professionals. Even though these services seem primarily for women, men can also benefit from programs like SMOC. An expansion of this program would also decrease teen transportation barriers to allow better access to care.

Though programs like SMOC have proven effective for reducing teen pregnancy rates in rural areas, studies indicate that the most important prevention plan is not a clinic or a healthcare provider. It might come as a surprise, but these studies show that in the eyes of teens, parents are more influential about sexuality than anyone else in their life. This topic, in particular, emphasizes the importance of parent's having open communication lines with their teenagers are vital to allow for healthy decision-making.

About the Author

Makayla Bretschneider is a third-year medical student at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences. She was selected as the Ortonville participant for the school's ROME program, or Rural Opportunities in Medical Education. Because the program includes teaching student doctors about the importance of rural newspapers in delivering health information, she has written this column for her ROME community. The information is not for diagnosis or treatment and should not be used in place of previous medical advice provided by a licensed practitioner.