Texas has 3rd-highest teen birthrate among states, study says

Texas has the third-highest teen birthrate in the nation, according to an annual study that ranked the state in the overall well-being of children.

Sixty-four of 1,000 births were to teenage mothers, far higher than the national rate of 43 births per 1,000, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2010 Kids Count Data Book.

The rate puts Texas 48th among the 50 states in teen births, better than only New Mexico and Mississippi. But it is an improvement over last year, when the state was the worst in the country.

The report, which also found a rising number of children living in poverty in Texas and a higher infant mortality rate, focuses attention on the need for services at a time when programs are being cut because of budget problems, said Dr. Frances Deviney, Texas Kids Count director.

"The big message is that when it comes to children's health, Texas kids are showing many signs that things are getting worse, not better," she said.

Even more alarming, some of the data in the analysis dates to 2007, before the recession began affecting Texas families, Deviney said.

"We know kids are struggling in Texas and the data hasn't caught up to reality," she said. "So many kids have lost so much of their access to health insurance because their parents have lost their jobs and now the state is looking at additional cuts."

Although the health of Texas children improved in four areas -- child and teen death rate, teen birthrate and high school dropout rate -- things got worse in terms of low birth weight, child poverty, the number of single-family households and infant mortality.

With a child poverty rate of 23 percent, Texas ranked 43rd among states and well above the national rate of 18 percent. In 2008, nearly 1.5 million kids were living in poverty in Texas.

In Tarrant County, the teen birthrate is slightly better than the state rate, at 56 per 1,000 births in 2006, according to Tarrant County Public Health.

Despite efforts to reduce infant mortality in the state, the report found that more babies are dying before their first birthday.

The state's infant mortality rate was 6.3 births per 1,000, slightly better than the national rate of 6.7 births. In 2007, more than 2,500 Texas babies died before their first birthday, nearly 500 more than in 2000.

In Tarrant County, the infant mortality rate was 7.6 deaths per 1,000, according to health officials.

"We're tied for first place for the highest infant mortality rate among Texas counties that have 10,000 or more live births," said Vanassa Joseph, spokeswoman for Tarrant County Public Health.

For years, several organizations in the county have worked to reduce the rate. An effort is under way to raise awareness and educate mothers-to-be, Joseph said.

"Healthy babies start with healthy mothers," she said. "We are trying to encourage mothers to see their doctor right away, take prenatal vitamins and change things that need to be changed such as smoking or using drugs and alcohol."

Jan Jarvis, 817-390-7664