Obesity reduction among young people receives a lot attention in Oklahoma. It’s an important issue, but many young girls in our state are gaining weight from more than fat grams. It’s called pregnancy. Actually, it’s called unplanned, far-too-early pregnancy — coming years before they complete their education and are prepared to be a parent.
Many are pregnant due to life situations that leave them victims of abuse, neglect, unhealthy relationships and a lack of proper adult guidance and protection. They are at high risk for poor health, school dropout, unemployment, violence, poverty and having more children while still teens. Their children are at risk for health and developmental problems — and repeating the cycle of poverty and teen pregnancy.
Oklahoma County has more than 1,500 births each year. A number of pregnant and parenting students in the Oklahoma City Public School District attend Emerson School, an alternative education program. Located at NW 7 and Walker, Emerson is the oldest school in the district — welcoming its first students in 1894. Today, the century-old two-story brick building and adjacent cluster of deteriorating, 25-year-old portable buildings provide the school setting for more than 200 students who, due to attendance or academic reasons, can’t attend a traditional high school. More than half of Emerson’s enrollment includes pregnant or parenting students in grades 6-12.
Last May, rejecting the pleas from state Sens. Andrew Rice and Connie Johnson, the state legislative leadership eliminated funding that enabled the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center to provide on-site health education. By the end of June, OUHSC had pulled the health center from the Emerson campus, eliminating critical health services for some of our state’s youngest, poorest and most vulnerable parents and babies.