Mississippi has highest teen birth rate

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Mississippi has claimed the distinction of having the highest teen birth rate in the United States, a figure more than three times higher than the states with the lowest rates, health officials said on Wednesday.

Mississippi, a comparatively poor state in the South, had a rate of 68.4 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19 in 2006, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report. That marked a 13 percent increase over 2005.

Mississippi often performs badly in health rankings. For example, 33 percent of its population is obese, the highest in the nation.

New Mexico (a rate of 64.1 per 1,000) and Texas (63.1) were next on the list, according to the CDC. Those two states had been tied for the highest in the nation the previous year.

Teen birth rates were highest in the South and Southwest and lowest in the Northeast, the CDC said. The lowest rates were recorded in New Hampshire (18.7), Vermont (20.8) and Massachusetts (21.3), according to the report.

The only states with a decrease in teen birth rates from 2005 to 2006 were North Dakota, Rhode Island and New York.

The CDC previously reported that the nationwide teen birth rate rose in 2006 for the first time in 15 years. The national average was 40.5 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19.

Critics have said that one factor in that increase may be recent federal funding for so-called abstinence-only education that does not give information about contraceptives.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; editing by David Wiessler)

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