Teens labor under pregnancy misconceptions

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The U.S. teenage birth rate remains the highest in the developed world, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports: 400,000 girls aged 15 to 19 years gave birth each year, on average, between 2004 and 2008. Teenage pregnancy is a public health concern, the study authors emphasize, because teen mothers are at greater risk of negative social outcomes (especially when forced to leave school before graduation), and their infants face an increased likelihood of low birth weight, poor academic achievement, and becoming teenage parents themselves.

To learn why the rate of unplanned teenage pregnancies remains so high, the researchers looked at data from the 2004-2008 Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS). What they found suggests a need for improved access to and education about birth control methods. One half of the teenage mothers had not used any method of contraception, and a third of that group believed they could not get pregnant at the time. The data also show that only 21 percent of these teenagers by self-report used a highly effective contraceptive method such as oral contraceptive pills, and less than a quarter used condoms. About 5 percent used the least effective modes of contraception, such as the rhythm method and withdrawal. There were no differences among the races in the rate of failure to use birth control.

The CDC report lists a number of measures to help lower the rate of unintended teenage pregnancy and, while none are novel, they all merit attention: delaying the onset of sexual activity, providing factual information about the conditions under which pregnancy can occur, increasing teenagers motivation and negotiation skills for pregnancy prevention, improving access to contraceptives, and encouraging the use of more effective contraceptive methods.

ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross, who was dismayed by the high rate of teenagers who are skipping birth control altogether, endorses the CDC s recommendations. Better education and better access to birth control are clearly a necessity, he says. Moreover, one-quarter of these girls attributed their pregnancy to their partners unwillingness to use contraception. This issue requires education for young women about how to deal with such demands.