The Chicago Department of Public Health has placed billboards featuring teen boys with "pregnant" bellies throughout the city, as part of a newly launched campaign to prevent teen pregnancies.
Called "Unexpected," the campaign targets particularly the areas that have the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the city and neighborhoods. Such billboards have been put up mostly at L stations, Chicago's rapid transit system, and bus stops.
While the incidence of teen pregnancy decreased about 33 percent in Chicago between 1999 and 2009, the city still has the dubious distinction of having one of the highest teen birth rates among major metropolitan areas – 57/1,000 live births. Chicago also ranks first and second in the country for the highest number of gonorrhea and chlamydia infections among adolescents 15-19 years of age.
Dr. Bechara Choucair, public health commissioner, told Chicago Sun-Times that only 50 percent of pregnant teens are able to finish high school, and just 2 percent of them finish college by age 30. Studies also show their daughters are three times more likely to be teen moms themselves, and their sons are two times more likely to end up in prison.
So it "impacts boys, it impacts parents, it impacts communities," and not just the girls, Choucair said. Besides, boys are equally responsible for teen pregnancy.
The images of pregnant boys will surprise people, and that's part of the communication. The state's health department has found that 90 percent of such pregnancies are unintended.
"This is the general conversation we wanted to see," Choucair was quoted as saying.
The problem is huge nationwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 40 percent of young women get pregnant at least once before they turn 20.
The health department has also launched a website, beyoubehealthy.org, and a blog, sexedloop.com, to educate youngsters in the area of sex and relationship, as part of the campaign.
The website seeks to promote both abstinence and the use of condoms. "CONDOM. Whatever you call it ... Wear one!" it says. "Research shows that when young people receive medically-accurate health information and have access to caring, non-judgmental support, they typically have sex later than their peers and are more likely to use contraception when they do."
The website also states that school lessons usually cover the physical changes, and often leave out the emotional side. "During puberty you may feel out of sorts; like you are on an emotional rollercoaster … You may also feel clumsy and awkward as you get used to your new and rapidly changing body and emerging sexuality. It can be a very confusing time so if you feel uncomfortable and a little lost, you are not alone. All of your friends are having similar experiences. You can help each other by talking things through and giving yourself enough down time to de-stress."