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Report: Girls excel in education, sports; encounter health, poverty issues

Girls in North Carolina have gained ground in education and sports participation. And as teenagers, they are less likely than in years past to be sexually active or get pregnant.

But substantial gaps persist among racial and socioeconomic groups when it comes to girls’ health and well-being, according to Meredith College researchers, who released the first “Status of Girls in North Carolina” report on Monday.

To create a snapshot of how girls are faring in the state, researchers looked at a range of factors from poverty to education, media consumption, civic engagement and physical, mental and sexual health. They found good news and bad news.

Overall, girls are excelling in school and are less likely to drop out than their male counterparts. They make up about half of the students in the state’s science, technology, engineering and math-focused schools.

“Things like that hopefully bode well for girls in North Carolina in terms of translating to professional successes,” said Amie Hess, lead researcher and assistant professor of sociology at Meredith.

Health and wellness indicators are not as high for girls of color and girls living in poverty, where, Hess said, “the story is not quite as positive.”

In a letter accompanying the report, Meredith President Jo Allen said the findings should be both celebrated and used as a catalyst for improving girls’ lives.

“At the very least, we must realize that as girls thrive, they create better (safer, more affluent, healthier, better educated, more stable) families and communities where all people can flourish,” she wrote.

Here are some of the report’s findings:

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Education:

The high school dropout rate is higher for boys than girls. In 2011-12, two-thirds of girls in elementary and middle school passed end-of-grade tests. And girls seem to be overcoming the stereotype that they don’t do well in science and math. Three out of four high school girls passed end-of-course tests in biology and Algebra I.



Physical health: The overall obesity rate for high school girls was 10.9 percent. It was 15.2 percent among African-American girls, 12 percent among Latinas and 8 percent among white girls. But more girls perceive that they are overweight than is the reality, and troubling eating patterns have emerged among middle school girls, researchers said.

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Mental health

: Teen girls in North Carolina self report depression at lower rates than the national average, but girls are much more likely to report feeling hopeless than their male counterparts. Among high school girls in North Carolina, 15 percent considered suicide, while nearly a quarter of middle school girls said they considered suicide in 2011.



Sexual health: Nearly half of girls in North Carolina have sexual intercourse before graduating from high school, but the rate of sexual activity among youth has actually dropped, from 57.6 percent in 1995 to 47.1 percent in 2011. And the teen pregnancy rate in North Carolina, while higher than the national average, is declining. Researchers attribute the lower rates to the fact that 75 percent of teens say a parent or other adult in the family has talked to them about sex. Latina girls have the highest teen pregnancy rates in the state.

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Media consumption

: TV viewing varies considerably among racial groups. For example, among middle school girls, 62 percent of African American girls report watching more than three hours of TV daily, compared to 26 percent of white girls. Eighty percent of North Carolina teens use social networking sites, and 63 percent text every day. With that, girls report higher rates of electronic bullying than boys. Among girls, 21 percent of high schoolers and 27 percent of middle schoolers reported being bullied by electronic means.



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conomic status:

Not all girls are equally at risk for living in poverty in the state. One in three African-American, Latina and American Indian girls ages 5-17 are living in poverty, but the percentage jumps to 50 percent among girls under 5.



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Civic engagement/extracurricular activities:

More than 40 percent of girls play high school sports, though male students still outpace them in participation. Teens and young women are more likely to volunteer and donate money to charity than boys and young men.



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