Health department seeks survey info on teens’ sexual activity


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Do you think sex education should be taught in schools? Have you talked with your teenagers about sex and sexually transmitted diseases?

These are a couple of questions in a survey posed to the community by the Mesa County Health Department. The results of the 18-question, anonymous survey will be used to further prevention efforts for teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, according to Kristy Emerson, director of prevention and education at the health department.

The intent of the department is to learn whether the community even thinks teen pregnancy is an issue, Emerson said. “If they don’t, that means we have to do more work. That will give us some direction.”

The health department is seeking input from at least 500 parents of teenagers and pre-teens. An upcoming survey will request input from teens.

Survey questions also ask parents whether they talk to their teenagers about the possibilities of contracting sexually transmitted infections.

Teenage birth rates have dipped nationally in the past decade. However, local health officials still are concerned that Mesa County’s teenage birth rates are higher than the state’s average.

In 2009, 42 girls ages 15-19 out of 1,000 girls gave birth in Mesa County, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. During that same time, the state’s average birth rate was 35.1 teenagers giving birth out of 1,000 girls.

Health officials also are concerned about what appears to be increasing numbers sexually transmitted infections — especially chlamydia — among teenagers. In 2005, 24.2 of 1,000 girls reported to have the infection in Mesa County. In 2009, that number jumped to a rate of 31.3 cases of 1,000 girls and a rate of 7.6 per 1,000 in boys, according to the state agency.

Those numbers could reflect that more teenagers are getting tested for the disease through annual exams, Emerson said.

But having those statistics also helps health officials to dig down deeper into the issues surrounding teenage sexual health, she said.

Survey results may also help gauge how best to disseminate information into the community about how teenagers can protect their health. Specific agencies also can request trainers from the health department to speak at events, Emerson said.

“We don’t want teens getting diagnosed with HPV (Human Papillomavirus) or AIDS and not knowing how to prevent it,” she said. “Having science-based information is not helpful if we can’t get it out into the community.”

By the fall, the health department will begin seeking youth volunteers for a teen advisory group. That should help health officials understand the best ways to get information into teens’ hands about preventing teen pregnancies and preventing the spread of sexually transmitted infections.

Mesa County Health Department offers family planning services such as low-cost to free birth control, pregnancy tests and screenings for sexually transmitted diseases. The department is required by law to offer services to anyone under 18 without a parent’s permission.


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