The country's rate of teen births took what public health experts call a disheartening but not necessarily surprising jump last year.

According to figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teen births increased — for the first time since 1991 — by 3 percent from 2005 to 2006.

National and local health officials say they're not necessarily expecting the numbers to indicate a coming trend. They add, however, the jump could have been foretold in the phenomenal increases in the teen rates of sexually transmitted diseases, including syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia.

The new CDC report isn't state-specific, but Utah may be contributing to that increase. Latest figures from Utah's Department of Health show that 18 of the 61 regions the agency tracks statewide have higher teen birthrates than the national average. The highest teen birthrates in the state are Rose Park, with an average rate of 96.5 per 1,000 teen girls; downtown Ogden with 83 per 1,000; and Glendale at 79.8 per 1,000, according to the health department.

The CDC report shows that between 2005 and 2006, the birthrate for teenagers aged 15-19 rose 3 percent, from 40.5 live births per 1,000 females aged 15-19 in 2005 to 41.9 births per 1,000 in 2006.

This follows a 14-year downward trend in which the teen birthrate fell by 34 percent from its all-time peak of 61.8 births per 1,000 in 1991.

In Utah, public education programs are under way, funded in part by federal abstinence education grants, focusing particularly on involving parents in a public dialogue on teen pregnancy.

"I think the report highlights yet again the need for a comprehensive sex-education program and the failure of the abstinence-only approach," said Missy Larsen, executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Council, noting that $1 billion has been spent on so-called abstinence-only teen sex education movement nationwide.

The capacity of teens to get accurate information has narrowed considerably in the wake, she said.

"These kinds of statistics force us to ask ourselves if we are doing the best for our young people to help them prevent unintended pregnancies and to arm themselves against these diseases that could prevent them from ever having children," Larsen said.

She noted that research among teens is showing they want and rely on sex education information from parents.

"Kids want to talk about it and they overwhelmingly want to talk about it with parents," Larsen said. "If we can have a comprehensive approach with abstinence as the foundation and provide medically reliable information about contraception we would be doing the most we can to keep teens healthy."


E-mail: [email protected]