Rates are well higher than national average in counties facing health disparities
Teen pregnancy rates are up to four times higher than the national average in South Texas, pointing to adolescent health care inequities affecting those who historically have suffered from socioeconomic disparities.
UT Teen Health, an initiative of UT Health San Antonio that promotes adolescent health and wellness, has been approved for a five-year, $9.86 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help stem teen pregnancies through outreach efforts across a mostly rural 38-county area.
Those counties comprise UT Health San Antonio’s service area extending to the lower Rio Grande Valley, and largely demonstrate high levels of adolescent health inequities. With the grant, UT Teen Health aims to advance equity in adolescent health through proven evidence-based programs and positive youth development in school districts, clinics, community-based organizations, houses of worship, detention centers, and group and residential care programs throughout the region.
“These programs will promote youth-centered, medically accurate, high-quality programming and services that improve health outcomes and promote optimal health for youth ages 10-24, using a sustainable model to train facilitators to reach 16,000 youth annually,” said Kristen Plastino, MD, director of UT Teen Health, vice chair of clinical operations and professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UT Health San Antonio, and senior medical director for UT practices at University Health.
The grant is part of an overall $68.5 million that will be given out by Health and Human Services over the next year to 53 organizations in 29 states and Puerto Rico for teen pregnancy prevention programs.
The Advancing Equity in Adolescent Health through Replication of Evidence-Based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs and Services cooperative agreements will distribute annual awards of $350,000 to $1.97 million apiece to the organizations.
“Improving sexual and reproductive health outcomes and promoting positive youth development is a cornerstone of supporting adolescent health and well-being,” said Rachel L. Levine, MD, assistant secretary for health with HHS, and admiral and head of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. “The TPP (Teen Pregnancy Prevention) program provides essential resources to replicate and scale programs that have been proven effective to achieve these goals.”
While the teen birth rate nationally has dropped 78% since a high in 1991, and now sits at 13.9 births per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19, teen birth rates among Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black teens each persist at 21.8 – more than twice that of non-Hispanic white teens (9.4).
Across UT Health San Antonio’s 38-county South Texas region, with a population that is 69% Hispanic, rates are higher, even.
These counties suffer disparately from health burdens, including 33 counties that have teen birth rates above the national rate, and 24 of which are well higher – up to four times the national rate at 56.8 per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19.
UT Teen Health will extend services to these rural counties by leveraging its contacts with youth-serving systems throughout the region.
Specifically, it will seek to strengthen family/caregiver and teen communication through community programs and relationship education curriculum. A Stakeholder Leadership Team comprised of school administrators, community youth-serving organizations, parents, partners and community members will improve linkages to community clinics and services by conducting a needs assessment in each community to identify the services available and linking families to those services.
And youth will be provided meaningful leadership opportunities and voice through the Youth Leadership Council, a youth-centered council that will provide input into the initiative of this grant on how best to reach their peers and families.
These activities officially began July 1.
“UT Teen Health is excited to provide much-needed resources to these counties that have a lack of resources and access to services,” Plastino said.