Urban Issues


    Efforts to reduce the number of teen moms in Milwaukee are on track.

    That’s the conclusion of those who have used shock advertising, social marketing, and sex education to lower alarmingly high levels of teen pregnancies.

These include United Way of Greater Milwaukee, Serve Marketing, and Pearls for Teen Girls, a nonprofit that works with at-risk teens and Geoffrey Swain, medical director of the Milwaukee Health Department.


In 2006, the health department and United Way released a report, “If Truth Be Told,” which showed the amount of teen births and its impact on the city. Historically, teen births have spread through multiple sex partners, unprotected sex and sex for money or drugs – all often fueled by poverty, unemployment and lack of education.


    A teen birthrate is the number of births per 1,000 females in a particular age group for a given year, Swain said. In 2006, Milwaukee’s teen birthrate was 52 births per 1,000 females under 18, the key age group concerning most experts because a pregnancy can affect continuing education. As of 2010, the rate dropped to 35.8 births. The report helped lead the health department and United Way in 2008 to set a goal of 30 births per 1,000 females by 2015, he said.


    Actual births dropped from 687 in 2006 to 469 in 2010.

    A second edition of the report, released May 2011, revealed the drop in births and continued efforts to lower the total even more, according to Nicole Angresano, vice president of community impact for United Way.


    However, those concerned with this problem are unhappy with changes in the state’s sex-education curriculum that now allow public schools to teach abstinence-only courses.

    “Teaching abstinence-only classes in schools are not as effective as a comprehensive sex education curriculum,” said Swain, also an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin Medical School.


    Other organizations are providing comprehensive sex education to teenagers.

    “We have 50 active members on the oversight committee on teen pregnancy, but we also have lots of other people that help us from staff partner agencies,” Agresano said.

    United Way has worked with Serve Marketing and other partners to reduce teen pregnancies, Swain said.

    Serve Marketing is a company that works to promote the ideas of nonprofit organizations. The company’s focus is on women, child, minority issues and health.


    “We do not pay anything in cash to Serve Marketing for their services to us, but they have really helped our effort in shock advertising against teen pregnancy,” Angresano said.

    Shock advertising also has helped reduce the number of teen moms. For example, a new campaign includes pictures of pregnant boys on busses and phone numbers that one can call or text with a social marketing message on the other end.


    “These have been effective of raising awareness of the problem overall in the community and raising additional funds of anti-teen pregnancy interventions,” he said.

    Angresano said: “We cannot be fickle, for we have to stay connected to this topic as a community in order for it to continue to be successful.”


    Sexually transmitted diseases are another concern, Swain said. During the last 10 years, Milwaukee has consistently ranked in the top 10 for gonorrhea and the top five for chlamydia rates among the country’s 50 largest cities, he said.


    “The rates themselves have been coming down slowly but not as rapidly compared to the other cities, which explains why Milwaukee is still ranked so high,” he said.


    Swain stressed that teen births and sexually transmitted diseases are not confined to a certain area, and can happen to anyone, regardless of race, social status or education level.


    “There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that having a baby as a teen makes a girl more likely to get in poverty – and stay in poverty – because babies are expensive, take a lot of time and make it hard to get a job,” he said.


    Another factor is adult men having sex with 15- and 16-year-old girls. United Way and Serve Marketing have teamed to produce a new advertising campaign at city bus stops that depicts rats and snakes on young girls that states, “What kind of man preys on underage girls?”


    “I think a lot of times middle- and upper-class groups tend to think that these are a problem for lower class populations,” Swain said, “and just to be blunt, I think that whites tend to think that these are mainly just a problem for blacks and Hispanics to some degree.”


    He added, “People with sexually transmitted diseases don’t limit their sexual behavior to certain zip codes.”| UV


Efforts to reduce teen births praised| Taylor Peterson

Actual births dropped from 687 in 2006 to 469 in 2010.