INDIANAPOLIS | The carefree childhood always has been more aspirational than actual for many, and a new analysis finds girls growing up in Indiana often have a harder time than girls living elsewhere.
The Status of Girls in Indiana report, compiled by St. Mary's College of Notre Dame, Ind., compares Indiana girls ages 10 to 19 with girls across the country on a wide range of factors including poverty, education, physical health, sexuality and drug use.
Overall, Hoosier girls are poorer, more overweight, likelier to get pregnant and probably drank alcohol in the past month compared to their peers.
At the same time, Indiana girls outperform Hoosier boys on standardized tests, are more likely to graduate from high school and watch less television than girls in other states.
"Our girls deserve every chance to improve their lives and achieve their dreams," said Carol Mooney, St. Mary's president. "Awareness of both the achievements made in Indiana, and the opportunities that still exist to create a better environment for girls, will help us move forward in an informed way."
Expert reviewers of the report expressed concern about the mental and physical health results, which show that more than a third of female Indiana high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless, 22 percent considered suicide and 11.4 percent attempted to kill themselves.
One factor in that finding may be the poor body image of many Hoosier girls. While 18.5 percent are overweight and 11.5 percent obese, 37 percent described themselves as overweight or obese.
In addition, Indiana girls were more likely to use diet pills or laxatives to try to lose weight than girls in other states.
Vincent Caponi, executive chairman of St. Vincent Health, said health care providers across the state need to use the report's data to put "plans and initiatives in place to ensure we are addressing the issues."
Indiana girls fare better in the classroom where they outperform boys on the ISTEP+ exam at all grade levels, and 91 percent of girls graduate from high school compared to 85 percent of boys.
Half of high school girls reported having sex at some point in their lives, with 40 percent engaging in sexual intercourse in the past three months. That's more than the national average but in line with Indiana results over the past decade.
The percentage of girls who failed to use any contraception during their last sexual encounter dropped in 2011 to 12.8 percent from 18.5 percent in 2009.
Nevertheless, 37.3 out of every 1,000 Indiana girls got pregnant and gave birth, well above the national average of 34.2. About one-sixth of Indiana teen mothers have more than one child.
Across Indiana, 112,000 girls ages 6 to 17 lived below the poverty line in 2011. That's 22 percent of all Hoosier girls; nearly half of black and Hispanic girls were living in poverty, according to the report.
Kristin Garvey, executive director of the Indiana Commission for Women, said the report is certain to guide girl-focused organizations as they work to improve the lives of Hoosier girls.
"By providing a current snapshot of girls in Indiana, this report provides statistics for individuals, organizations and agencies that need the information to offer recommendations for future programming efforts or policy considerations," she said.