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Get ready! It’s Pennsylvania Teen Health Week!


Help us celebrate!Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Laura Offutt, MD, whose digital health resource, Real Talk with Dr. Offutt, developed Teen Health Week in collaboration with the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Department of Health with support from the Pennsylvania Medical Society. Laura is a volunteer internal medicine physician, youth mentor and advocate who uses social media and her blog-based website to engage adolescents with teen-friendly, accurate health information.

Get ready! This week is Pennsylvania Teen Health Week! As proclaimed by Governor Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania Teen Health Week to focuses on the overall health of teenagers from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and everywhere in between. Pennsylvania is the first and only state to have such a statewide proclamation and observance – but soon Teen Health Week will be a national celebration!

It’s easy to be a part of this special week.  Involvement can be as simple as hanging a flyer announcing the week in your school, church or community center, or wearing lime green, the official color of Teen Health Week.  We even have a toolkit which is full of easy ideas for activities, sample social media posts, and a variety of resources which are organized around the broad themes covered in the week.

Each day has a specific broad health focus:

Monday: Healthy Diet and Exercise

Tuesday: Violence Prevention

WednesdayMental Health

Thursday: Sexual Development and Health

Friday: Substance Use and Abuse

Why is Teen Health Week important? Well, did you know that in Pennsylvania more than a third of our young feel depressed or sad most days?  Or that many teens think that driving after smoking marijuana is safer than after drinking? Or that 1 in 3 high school students have been in an abusive relationship? Or that fewer than one-tenth of our teens broke a sweat for one short hour in the past week?  And that fifteen- to nineteen-year-olds account for nearly half of the cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea in Pennsylvania?

As you can see, there are plenty of good reasons to have a week focused on teen health here in Pennsylvania!

Don’t worry – it’s not too late to take part in this fun and special week!  Here are a few ideas of how you can be a part of it:

Wear lime green. It’s the official Teen Health Week color.

Get artsy. Use post-it notes and set up a New Year’s Resolution wall that week – where teens can put anonymous health resolutions for 2017! You know, like “eat a fruit every day.”  Or, “make sure to get enough sleep.”

Hashtag for health. Share or post educational announcements or social media posts focused on each day’s health theme with friends or students. (Find these in the toolkit, or on SafeTeens’ social media channels.)

Help us celebrate! Attend the kick-off at the State Capitol Building in Harrisburg on January 9th, or the Friday the 13th celebration at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia.

Plus, there are a lot more easy and fun ideas already created for you in our toolkit!



How does your county fare? Explore the State of Sex Ed with us.


SafeTeens The State of Sex Ed

SafeTeens, in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Partnership for Health Youth, is proud to introduce The State of Sex Ed, our county-by-county inventory of sexual health education programs and resources in Pennsylvania.

Schools, community-based organizations, and other youth-serving entities can explore The State of Sex Ed to identify available adolescent sexual health programming in their communities, as well as develop and use programs and resources more efficiently and effectively.

If you know of a sexuality education program, we would like you to participate by adding your information.  It’s simple; to get started, enter your school or organization’s adolescent sexual health programs. Once this information is entered, you’ll be able to explore the various  programming tools that other youth-serving organizations are providing across Pennsylvania to help improve adolescent sexual health.

We trust that you will value this inventory and that you will use it to explore the resources that are available in your community.

Welcome to this exciting online community of Pennsylvania providers!



Prepare for Freshman Year…With a GYN exam (It’s not that bad!)


AR-140729874Editor’s note: This article originally appeared at Geisinger is one of the nation’s largest rural health services organizations, serving more than 2.6 million residents throughout 44 counties in central and northeast Pennsylvania. Whether you have insurance or not, you can make an appointment for a free or low cost GYN exam at health centers across Pennsylvania.


Timing is everything

Most colleges and universities require their incoming students to have a routine physical completed before reporting to their first class. This ensures that students are healthy and up-to-date on immunizations before coming into a close-living and learning situation.

The same can be said about women having a routine gynecological exam before they begin their freshman year.

“It’s recommend that women have their first gynecological exam between the ages of 15 and 18,” said Brian Murray, M.D., a gynecologist at Geisinger Mt. Pleasant, Scranton. “All women should have had a gynecological exam by the time they’re ready to begin college at age 18. However, if a woman becomes sexually active prior to their 18th birthday, GYN exams should begin sooner.”

If a young woman hasn’t had a GYN exam before, having one prior to leaving for school will ensure they are healthy and informed about how to protect their health.


The exam explained

Before any part of the actual exam begins, your doctor will likely take some time to talk to you and get to know you a little better. This is meant not only to put you at ease and calm your nerves, but also to get a picture of your overall health and any risk factors you may have for health conditions.

“The first part of a routine GYN exam involves your doctor performing a breast exam — this allows your doctor to look for or identify any unusual lumps or changes in the tissue and skin,” Dr. Murray said. During this part of the exam, your doctor will also show you how to perform a self-breast exam so you can check for any lumps or changes in between visits.

Next, the doctor may perform a pelvic exam, which not all patients require. During a pelvic exam, your doctor examine the external genital area as well as the cervix, vaginal walls, uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries.

“During the pelvic exam, your doctor may perform a Pap smear,” Dr. Murray said. “This test consists of taking cells from the cervix to detect the presence of pre-cancerous or cancerous cells.”




Let’s talk about…sex

Based on the earlier discussion of your health and history, your doctor may recommend testing for sexually transmitted diseases. While the conversation about your sexual health may be uncomfortable, it’s important to be honest in order for your doctor to accurately assess any risks to your health.

One part of the discussion may be about human papillomavirus (HPV).

“In general, we recommend you receive the HPV vaccine starting as early as 9 – 11 years. But, if you haven’t yet received the vaccine, your doctor may recommend you receive it now if you are still under the age of 26. The vaccine is designed to protect against HPV infection and the health problems the HPV infection can cause,” Dr. Murray said.

Your routine GYN appointment is also an ideal time to bring up any questions you may have about birth control options.

“Anything you discuss with your gynecologist about birth control, sex, STDs, pregnancy or anything else is private and confidential. Ask any questions you may have about your reproductive health to learn what you can do to protect your health as you embark into a new phase of your life,” Dr. Murray advised.

Editor’s note: You can make an appointment for a free or low cost GYN exam at health centers across Pennsylvania.



Introducing SafeTeens Answers!, a more personal, engaging SafeTeens experience



Today’s a big day! Today, SafeTeens is joining with youth health advocates from across the state and the nation at Temple University’s third annual Adolescent Sexual Health Conference.

Today, we premier SafeTeens Answers!, the most significant development in Maternal and Family Health Services‘s thirteen-year-old SafeTeens Project since the website and phone hotline’s launch in 2002.

With SafeTeens Answers!, Pennsylvania teens, for the first time, can consult real, live health educators 24/7 — all over text. Our health educators (or “sexperts,” as we like to call them) are trained on a wide array of reproductive health topics, including anatomy, relationships, contraception and STDs.

Here are just some of the thing’s you can ask:

  • Can you get rid of an STD?
  • Does size matter?
  • Why are condoms flavored?
  • What happens if the condom breaks?
  • What birth control method is the most effective?


To ask a question, first text the keyword “SAFE” to 57890. Once opted in, ask a question anytime. A real, live health educator will respond within a few hours — or within 24 to 48 hours, if it’s a real head-scrater.

Why text? Today’s teens text upwards of sixty times per day. Grounding SafeTeens Answers! in a technology teens use all day (every day) ensures teens can access safe, reliable answers when they need them most.

“Too often, teens get reproductive health information from unreliable sources,” says project coordinator Nick Sufrinko. “SafeTeens Answers! provides a safer, more accurate way to seek information.”

MFHS President and CEO Bette Cox Saxton thanks the project’s funders. “Thanks to generous funding from the Anna Lalor Burdick Program of the Lalor Foundation,” Saxton said, “we’re bringing this valuable service to Pennsylvania teens.” She continues, “Teens, when armed with the safe, reliable information, are best equipped to make informed, healthy choices about their futures.”

Join us in welcoming the more personal, engaging SafeTeens experience by texting SAFE to 57890!



Health centers across Pennsylvania to begin offering free tattoos to teens and young adults


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGotcha! While you may not be able to get free tribals and sleeves at our health centers anytime soon, you can get free birth control, STD tests and more at our health centers — and that’s no joke.

That’s pretty awesome itself, because some birth control methods are over 99% effective. If you’re sexually active, birth control can help you delay pregnancy until you’re ready to have a child. That’s better than a free tat, amiright?

And unlike a tattoo that the whole world can see, no one has to know about your visit to a health center. If you don’t want anyone to know about your visit, tell us! We’ll make sure what happens in the health center, stays in the health center; absolutely no forms or letters will be mailed home.

So, what are you waiting for? Find a teen health center near you, and make a free, confidential appointment today! Oh, and Happy April Fools’ Day!