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Teen Birthrates Down in Nearly Every State, Survey Shows

Teenage birthrates have declined in nearly every state in the country for four straight years, according to a study released last week by a Washington-based research group.

In a state-by-state analysis, researchers at Child Trends Inc. found that adolescent birthrates fell in 46 states from 1991 through 1994, demonstrating that the recent decrease in teenage childbearing represents a sweeping, national trend as opposed to a dip in pockets of the country.

The National Center for Health Statistics reported last month that birthrates among 15- to 19-year-old girls have continued to decline over the past few years--from 62.1 births per 1,000 in 1991 to 56.9 births per 1,000 in 1995.

While the birthrate among Hispanic teenagers, in particular, has increased slightly, the rates among both black and white adolescents have steadily declined since 1991, the report said. ("Falling Birthrate Leaves Experts Asking Why," Oct. 16, 1996.)

"This downturn is more than a blip on the screen," said Carol Emig, a spokeswoman for Child Trends. Ms. Emig added, however, that it's difficult to pinpoint a particular cause for the drop. Better contraceptive use among sexually active young people may be a factor, she said.

Warning on Lead Paint in Playgrounds

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued recommendations following a study that found many school, park, and community playgrounds have equipment coated with lead paint that could be hazardous to young children.

In a survey conducted in 26 playgrounds in 13 cities last year, researchers at the independent federal agency found that 16 playgrounds in 11 of the cities had equipment with lead-paint levels that exceeded recommended safety standards.

The paint on the metal and wooden jungle gyms, slides, and swing sets had deteriorated into dust particles that children could ingest while playing, says the report, which was released last month. Studies have shown that high concentrations of lead are associated with behavioral problems, learning disabilities, and growth retardation in children younger than 7.

The CPSC recommends that school officials and communities inspect their playgrounds for deteriorating paint and conduct laboratory tests to determine lead content. Its report also recommends that surfaces coated with flaking lead-based paint be covered with a nonleaded paint or be replaced.

Air Bags Can Kill Children

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that passenger-side automobile air bags that inflate in head-on collisions may be hazardous to infants and children younger than 12.

Although the safety device has been found to reduce the possibility of fatal injury by 27 percent among adults, it can be fatal to infants and young children, the report, issued last month, says.

Since 1993, 28 children have been killed in crashes involving passenger-side air bags, the NHTSA says.

The agency warns that infants placed in rear-facing car seats should never ride in the front seat of a car equipped with an air bag. The safest place for young children to ride is the back seat, it says.

Independent researchers also warned last month that air bags are liable to cause injury to adults and teenage passengers who are shorter than 5 feet, 2 inches tall.

Ten out of the 19 adults killed by air bags have been women of short stature, according to NHTSA statistics. William S. Smock of the University of Louisville department of emergency medicine recommended that drivers of short stature sit about a foot back from the steering wheel, where air bags are kept, to avoid potential injury.

--JESSICA PORTNER [email protected]

Vol. 16, Issue 10

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