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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:

Education:


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.

Mental health

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.

Media consumption

conomic status:

Civic engagement/extracurricular activities:

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