US Teen Births Lowest Ever, but More Work to Do, CDC Says

Troy Brown, RN

April 08, 2014

Adolescent births in the United States have declined during the last 2 decades to the lowest level ever recorded, according to an analysis of 2012 data published in the April issue of CDC Vital Signs Report, but younger teenagers, aged 15 to 17 years, accounted for 1 in 4 births to teenagers aged 15 to 19.

Ileana Arias, PhD, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) principal deputy director, and Lee Warner, PhD, MPH, associate director for science, CDC Division of Reproductive Health in Atlanta, Georgia, discussed these numbers, focusing on the younger teenagers and what can be done to further reduce their pregnancy rates, at a press briefing today.

The rate of pregnancy in teenagers aged 15 to 17 years declined 63% from 38.6% in 1991 to 14.1% in 2012. Still, more than 86,000 teenagers aged 15 to 17 years (1 in 4 teenagers aged 15 to 19) gave birth in 2012. About 1700 younger teenagers gave birth per week in 2012, Dr. Arias said.

"[W]e can't be complacent when we hear about these declines in teen pregnancies and births; we still need to make more progress in reducing health disparities and the public health burden related to teen pregnancies," she explained.

Teenage pregnancy, especially young teenage pregnancy, can interfere with finishing high school and possibly lead to educational, occupational, economic, and healthcare jeopardies, even when schools offer special services to adolescent mothers, Dr. Arias said.

Adolescent fathers may also be at risk if they have to work before or after school to support their child.

"In 2012, the highest rates were among Hispanic teens, followed by non-Hispanic blacks, and American Indians, and Alaskan natives," Dr. Warner said.

"Birth rates among these racial and ethnic groups were 2 to 3 times higher than among non-Hispanic whites," he added.

Comprehensive Sex Education Vital

Although only 27% of teenagers in the 15- to 17-year-old age group have had sex, more than 80% of teenagers in this age group received no sex education before they had sex for the first time, and many who do use contraception are using less-effective methods. About 54% of sexually active younger teenagers use less effective methods of contraception, primarily condoms alone; only 1% use intrauterine device or implants, Dr. Warner said.

"While the majority of younger teens have talked with their parents or guardians about sex, only about 4 in 10 received information on both birth control and how to say no to sex," he explained.

"Research shows that teens who talk with their parents about sex, relationships, birth control, and pregnancy begin to have sex at a later age, use condoms and birth control more often when they actually do have sex, have better communication with partners, and have sex less often," Dr. Warner said.

"We as health professionals have a special duty to give young people the necessary knowledge, skills, and encouragement to make healthy decisions and engage in healthy behaviors," Dr. Arias said. This responsibility also extends to parents, guardians, communities, and the teens themselves, she added.

"We have the opportunity to provide our youth with complete and accurate health information in a respectful and culturally appropriate way. This includes counseling about fears and concerns, helping teens understand what services are available, what matters are private and confidential, and what services may actually require parent or guardian consent," Dr. Arias explained.

Young men also need education about contraception and prevention of sexually transmitted infections. "Teen males need to know the facts about contraceptive including condoms.... We also believe young men can benefit from teen-friendly services that help them understand sexual health risks and consequences," Dr. Warner said.

The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

CDC Vital Signs. "Preventing Pregnancies in Younger Teens." Full text

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