Centers for Disease Control officials reported this week that the number of teens ages 15 to17 having babies has dropped by two-thirds since 1991. While the news is encouraging, experts say the teen birth rate is still too high.
"Although we have made significant progress in reducing teen pregnancy, far too many teens are still having babies," says Tom Freiden, MD, director of the CDC.
To conduct their study, CDC researchers used data from the National Survey of Family Growth, a large and ongoing in-person survey of thousands of Americans. They found that 73 percent of teens ages 15 to 17 had not had sex yet; however, that still means that 86,000 teen girls in that age group were sexually active and had babies in 2012.
Why such a high number? Ignorance, mostly; these teens are not talking to their parents or getting properly educated about birth control. And when they do use birth control, they tend to use the least effective methods available, such as condoms alone. Only four out of ten teens say they had been given information on birth control or abstinence. Additionally, an astonishing 83 percent of both boys and girls in this age group reported that they had not received any sex education prior to their first sexual activity.
Researchers say we are missing opportunities to deliver messages before teens have sex, and that parents and teachers need to take the lead. Efforts to prevent teen childbearing are more successful when the focus is on evidence-based approaches to delaying sexual activity and increasing proper use of the most effective contraception methods for sexually active teens.
There are big state-to-state differences in birth rates among teens, and ethnic differences as well: more black and Hispanic teens become pregnant early. States with the lowest teen birth rates, including New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut and Vermont, have more accessible family planning services, sex education programs in the schools, and those that provide the information, resources, and education that teens need. CDC officials say that parents and educators, talking candidly about healthy relationships, contraception, and abstinence can make all the difference, and help the teen birth rate to a further decline.