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Why we need reproductive health services and education for teenagers and young adults

09/10/2018 by Campion Fund

There is a story, maybe true, maybe not, of a college instructor who told her freshman biology class “The DNA in your somatic cells are uniquely yours, but the DNA in your sperm or eggs belongs to all humankind.”  What she was reminding her students is the simple fact that the DNA in germ cells is passed on to the next generation and the next and the next.  Teenagers and young adults need to be reminded that their health affects the health of their future children and grandchildren. Not only is this important fact an essential one to teach all young persons, it is equally important to teach them that reproductive health affects their own adult general health.  Pregnant women who develop preeclampsia, an entity causing high blood pressure among other symptoms is a serious risk factor for stroke and heart attack as little as a few decades after the diagnosis of preeclampsia. (Lee GTubby J. Preeclampsia and the risk of cardiovascular disease later in life–A review of the evidence. Midwifery. 2015 Dec;31(12):1127-34. doi: 10.1016/j.midw.2015.09.005. Epub 2015 Sep 28.) Men with male factor infertility are at risk for heart disease in later life as well. (Campion Fund blog1/02/2018) Infants born prematurely are at risk for adult health problems.  There is increasing information that many pregnancy conditions have their origin in the overall health of parents prior to conception.  Society owes it to young people to education them about these risks.  There are many other aspects of reproductive health that young people need to understand.  They need to know about sexually transmitted disease and how to prevent them, they need to know about pregnancy prevention and the avoidance of stress inappropriate use of alcohol and drugs and that these can impact reproductive health. Exposure to pesticides and environmental toxins impact the health of sperm and eggs. (Campion Fund blogs 1/11/2017; 10/05/2017) From the point of view of public health all young persons need to know these facts.  It does not matter what their gender identity or sexual orientation is.  In the era of in vitro fertilization, gay men are sperm donors, gay women are able to become pregnant and transgender persons must be aware of how their biology affects their overall health.  Reproductive diseases, such as uterine fibroids (Campion Fund blogs 1/31/2014; 5/04/2017) whose origins science is just beginning to be understood causes serious morbidity for childbearing women, including infertility and pregnancy complications and their growth is now know to start early in the reproductive years.  Young men are affected by testicular cancer with origins in developmental aberrations of the testes. (Campion Fund blog 1/02/2018)

Our society does not do a good job of providing health services to all young persons.  This is often true of general health as well as reproductive health. Very often health services are not “young person friendly”, especially for males.  Complete health care is not often accessible to young women, either. There are many reasons for this.  Often young people consider themselves very healthy and do not need preventive health care.  Often insurance does not cover the preventive care that is essential for health of teenagers and young adults now and in the future.  Very few health care facilities who care for young persons do not even consider the health issues that affect future generations.  Parents are the primary providers of education for their children, but unless they are also educated about reproductive risks how can they teach their children?   There is a need for education for all parents.  But parents cannot do the education alone, the health care community needs to step up, school curriculums must include the biology of reproduction and religious leaders must own up to the importance of this topic to the future of society. Reproduction cannot be ignored.  It is obviously a very emotionally fraught topic and many have strongly held views, especially religious views on the topic.  However, we cannot allow these views to get in the way of the education of young persons.  There is room for disagreements as to what society needs to tell young persons about how to assure reproductive health and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and prevent pregnancy and poor birth outcomes, but we cannot ignore what science is telling us about reproductive health and how it affects future health and the health of future generations. The Campion Fund has published a number of blogs recently on the impact of the environment on reproductive health and the need for education regarding healthy reproduction. We believe that more needs to be done to alert the public about the need for comprehensive health care.  We also believe that more fundamental, basic research on reproductive diseases, reproductive processes, oogenesis, spermatogenesis, epigenetics, fertilization and pregnancy and birth needs to be conducted.  Not to provide the resources to meet this research need short changes the future of all humankind.  This is why we are hosting scientific meetings and meetings for the public on reproductive health and funding young scientists who are studying reproductive biology (Campion Fund blog 2/19/2014.