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Our view: Teen health issues are troubling

THE FIRST AMENDMENT

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Updated: January 5, 2013 6:10AM



Reports out last week reveal a troubling outlook on teen sexual health in the United States.

First, a new policy from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests members consider routinely prescribing emergency contraception to teen girls “to have on hand in case of future need” as part of sexual health counseling and that boys get the same information, regardless of current or intended sexual behavior.

Then, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said more than 1,000 young people ages 13 to 24 are being infected with human immunodeficiency virus each month. Surveys suggest 60 percent of them don’t know they’re infected.

Both documents point to a health system struggling to protect teens.

More than 300,000 U.S. teenage girls gave birth last year, with 80 percent of the pregnancies unintended. Although the teen pregnancy rate has declined the past few years, it’s still higher than in any other developed nation.

Public health officials have been recommending for several years that children as young as 11 get vaccinated against sexually transmitted human papillomavirus. Yet, the nation’s top health officials have overruled efforts to make “morning-after pills” available to girls younger than 17 without a prescription.

That leaves it to doctors to try to protect their younger patients not just from unintended pregnancy, but also from HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The odds of that care being delivered are daunting. Teens tend to drop out of health care as they age, and particularly avoid pediatricians and family doctors. Teen girls may find their way to gynecologists or women’s health clinics, but the availability of care for the gay and bisexual male teens, who make up the majority of the new HIV infections, is much less certain, particularly outside major cities.

Getting meaningful warnings and information to the teens most at risk demands new approaches and new messengers.

Scripps Howard News Service



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