(Photo credit: Kaiser Family Foundation)

“Statistics are real people with the tears wiped away. When statistical data are presented, they seem sanitized and tend to distance the reader from the actual problem at hand.”  ~ Dr. B. Lee Green 

Let’s take a look at this graph, taken from the policy fact sheet “Sexual Health of Adolescents and Young Adults in the United States”, developed by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

This fact sheet provides key data on sexual activity, contraceptive use, pregnancy, prevalence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and access to reproductive health services among teenagers and young adults in the United States.

The chart above is taken from this fact sheet, and the data and information is listed in the 2013 Kaiser Women’s Health Survey. To list some statistics:

**70% of women 19 to 24 rated confidentiality about use of health care such as family planning or mental health services as “important”; however, the majority of girls and women were not aware that insurers may send an explanation of benefits (EOB) that documents use of medical services that have been used to the principal policy holder, who may be a parent.

**Today, 21 states and DC have policies that explicitly allow minors to consent to contraceptive services, 25 allow consent in certain circumstances, and 4 have no explicit policy;

**38 states require some level of parental involvement in a minor’s decision to have an abortion, up from 18 states in 1991. 21 states require that teens obtain parental consent for the procedure, 12 require parental notification, and 5 require both.

Of course, the correlation makes sense: the older a woman is, the higher likelihood she is aware of what a EOB is and how health insurance companies many send them by mail to her home. In fact:

One of the earliest [Affordable care Act] provisions that took effect in September 2010 was the extensions of dependent coverage to young people up to age 26, who had the highest uninsured rate of any age group at the time the law was passed. In 2013, over four in ten (45%) women ages 18 to 25 reported that they were covered on a parent’s plan as a dependent. because that are adult children, the extension of coverage has raised concerns about their ability to maintain privacy regarding the use of sensitive health services such as reproductive and sexual health care and mental health. (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2013)

I also find it interesting that the younger a woman is, the higher she is to rate confidentiality when seeking various health care services. Also the fact that only 21 states and DC allow minors complete consent to access contraceptives and that most states require some level of parental involvement in a young person’s decision to have an abortion is worth looking into, especially in states that allow young people to access contraception without parental consent.

But we’re not here to talk about completely about the statistics. And we’re not here to provide a full-on critique of policy fact sheet.

When you see a chart (be in a bar chart, pie chart, line chart, or more), or hear a number percentage that is chosen to highlight the prevalence of something, do you ever wonder who are the people behind the numbers? Of course, there are many outlets that mention the population that was surveyed and/or when the surveying took place, but it’s not often that we think more about the actual people and how these statistics impact their lives.

When we hear that 35 million people in the world are living with HIV by the end of 2013, or that over 12,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States in 2011, or that 24% of young women ages 15-18 are not aware that their parents can find out that when they’ve gone to get reproductive care services, we know how it can be concerning. But all too often we become desensitized to how these numbers impact human experience. While these numbers and the people that they represent bring our attention to issues that impact our health, they can also raise more questions.

When organizations such as Kaiser Family Foundation, the Guttmacher Institute, and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) put out policy fact sheets, the numbers tend to be the focal point. However, what they’re also hoping when sharing these numbers that we take them and start creating dialogue on why these numbers exists. We often take things at face value, agree that there should be a cause for concern or celebration, and that’s it. We don’t often think about (unless it is explicitly stated from the gathered data) who was surveyed, where they live, their ages, race/ethnicity, gender, their lived experiences, or what the next steps are.

There was many ways to do this. You can share the statistics with your peers, students, or with the populations you work with that may be representative of the statistics. Share the statistics on social media for a way to get an even broad array of opinions. If you are an evaluator or researcher, consider conducting qualitative analyses such as in-depth interviews or focus groups on the statistics you’ve gathered in relation to any quantitative analyses you’ve performed. If you work with an agency or nonprofit, you can conduct a community needs assessment or an organizational assets/capacity analysis for the population. And if you’re a parent or caregiver, you can ask your children what they think about the statistics. Most importantly, work together to translate the statistics into meaningful action steps for your community, clients, or populations that are directly impacted.

The next time you read a policy fact sheet, or listen to a news reporter highlight a statistic, pay attention to how these statistics translate to your own lived experience and to the experiences of people that are directly impacted. Think more about the people behind the numbers.

RAISE YOUR VOICE: How do you use statistics in your life, school, or work?Share one way that you have discussed or taken action based on a statistics that impacts you and/or your community.

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