Grant allocates teenage pregnancy study

Andrew Tellijohn

University researchers are taking a closer look at teenage sexual behavior in hopes of lowering the pregnancy rate among adolescents.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently awarded the University $750,000 for a two-year period to establish a National Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Research Center.
Michael Resnick, a University professor of public health and pediatrics and the center’s director, said confidence levels and long-term goals often play a role in the decisions teens make. Teenage girls who become pregnant in high school are generally two to five years behind their classmates in reading, writing and general comprehension skills, he said.
“Teenage pregnancy is about a lot more than just intercourse,” Resnick said.
“Part of the (center’s) goal is to make teenagers think about and give them a sense of competence and confidence about the choices they make,” Resnick said. “When these are increased, you increase their motivation to delay child bearing because that young person sees a pathway for other ways of exposing their identity and sense of who they are.”
It will be about six months before the program is up and running, Resnick said. Several faculty members from the University’s School of Public Health, School of Nursing and the Department of Medicine have been hired to work for the center.
Although the program’s project plans do not yet include specifics, one of the researchers’ primary goals includes testing the effectiveness of established pregnancy prevention programs. Other objectives include training research and pediatric residents in pregnancy prevention techniques and finding effective ways of changing teenagers’ behaviors.
The University was chosen from a pool of more than 100 other health care facilities to house the center.
Sandra Potthoff, assistant professor in the University’s Division of Health Management and Policy, said the University’s reputation for applying research to the real world was a major reason the school was awarded the grant.
“It’s translating research findings into working, implementable strategies for the communities you’re trying to help,” she said.
Resnick said the University’s center is emphasizing the real-world applicability of the research.
“We are very committed and have a long record of transforming research into programs, policies and practices that make a real difference in the lives of young people,” he said.
According to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study, in 1993 there were 59.6 pregnancies per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19. In 1995, this number decreased to 56.9 pregnancies per 1,000 women.
Resnick said improving pregnancy prevention techniques will lead to education and outreach services that can help these numbers continue to decline.
“The reason (the center) is still so important is because teenage parenting is still one of the major causes and perpetuators of poverty in America,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control’s grant makes the University one of 14 members of the Health Promotion Disease Prevention Research Center Program. Each branch of the program focuses on different issues, and all members share research results to increase effectiveness.
Resnick said various Twin Cities health care clinics will implement the University’s pregnancy prevention research into their own practices.
“That’s why partnering is so important — to get the word out,” he said. “This is not a case of academics speaking to academic audiences.”