Originally created 08/04/98

Teen births higher



COLUMBIA -- African-American teen-agers in South Carolina are far more likely to get pregnant than white teens and are more likely to neglect their health and put their babies at risk, state statistics show.

Regardless of economic status or education, African-American mothers also are much more likely than whites to have babies who die or are born very small, officials say.

"A key is that we don't understand a lot of the gap," said Marie Meglen, maternal and child health director at the state Department of Health and Environmental Control. "We don't understand enough about what makes the health care system work well for some and not for others."

In Allendale County, where teen pregnancy rates are the highest in the state, nurse midwife Olivia Marshburn said she has tried to figure out why so many teens are having children. The motive is survival for females in places where there are no jobs and no dreams for the future, Ms. Marshburn said.

In some cultures, teens look on pregnancy as a sign that they are growing up, said Murray Vincent, a public health professor at the University of South Carolina. "The idea is that you affirm your womanhood by being able to have a baby and your manhood by being able to impregnate," Dr. Vincent said.

However, teens must be instructed in how to have healthy babies, officials said. At Palmetto Richland's Teen Clinic, young mothers-to-be are required to attend a weekly child-birthing class so they know what to expect.

African-American women in South Carolina are far less likely to seek early prenatal care, DHEC figures show. About two-thirds get care in the first three months of pregnancy, compared with more than 85 percent of whites.