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CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — Teen birth rates fell in Wyoming for the sixth consecutive year, bringing it closer to the national rate, according to a report released by the Wyoming Department of Health.
The report showed 30.2 births per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 19 in the state in 2013. The number had been as high as around 50 births in 2007. The latest national rate, in 2012, was 29.4 births per 1,000 for girls the same age.
Wyoming health officials attribute the decline at the state level to improvements in teens' access to reproductive services and education.
"Awareness and education is important," said Ashley Busacker, senior epidemiology adviser for maternal and child health at the Wyoming Department of Health. "A willingness to educate teens about services and reproductive health services is critical."
The state's report found that 50 percent of teen mothers receive a high school diploma by age 22, with less than 2 percent earning a bachelor's degree by age 30.
Teen births in the state cost $23 million annually in public-assistance program costs for the Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Supplemental Nutritional Assistance programs.
The data revealed a significant variation between counties.
"It's hard to pinpoint an exact cause," Busacker told the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/1qWFJZq). "Poverty issues definitely come into play for access to contraceptive services. Some of the counties we see have different access to those services than others."
Citing data from between 2006 and 2012, the report found the state's highest rates in Fremont and Campbell counties. Access to reproductive care in these areas could be one factor in the high rates, Busacker said.
The Department of Health is focused on increasing the information available to teens concerning reproductive health.
The department recently launched its Personal Responsibility Education Program to provide grants to state agencies for education on contraception and practices to prevent unplanned pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections.
The program focuses on 10- to 19-year-olds.
"We try to empower youth to make good decisions around both their relationships and sexual activity," said Danielle Marks, women and infant health program manager at the Department of Health. "If they do choose to become sexually active, we want to provide them with resources to prevent pregnancy and STIs."
Local health care providers are often the key to maintaining access to reproductive health services, health department officials said.
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com
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