Washington, DC — While teen births have decreased by 33% since 1991, the numbers are still too high, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The US owns the dubious distinction of being the industrialized nation with the highest rate of teen pregnancy.
In 2008, nearly 42 out of every 1,000 US teens gave birth to a child. Despite strides in lowering teen pregnancies, roughly three in 10 girls in the US get pregnant by age 20 and more than 400,000 births to teen mothers occur each year. The College continues to advocate for access to comprehensive sex education and reproductive health services for teens and supports the National Day to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy on May 5, 2010.
“We still have a long way to go when it comes to teen pregnancy. It’s clear that simply telling kids not to have sex isn’t enough. We have to make prevention a top priority,” said Richard S. Guido, MD, chair of the College’s Committee on Adolescent Health Care. “Ongoing education about the range of issues related to sex and sexuality—including contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, and teen pregnancy—is a must.”
The College believes that all teens should be provided with comprehensive, scientifically accurate sex education and access to contraception services. Awareness efforts, such as the National Day to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, can also help get important information to teens.
The National Day engages teens in a dialogue about sexuality and pregnancy and encourages them to think carefully about sex and contraception, the possibility of pregnancy, the challenges of being a parent, and the importance of avoiding too-early pregnancy and parenthood. The National Day website offers provocative, teen-friendly resources including an interactive, online quiz that encourages them to think carefully about what they would do in a number of risky sexual situations.
“Early parenthood is not easy and will significantly alter a teen’s course in life. There is a lot at stake for kids facing pregnancy,” said Diane F. Merritt, MD, vice chair of the Committee on Adolescent Health Care. “Teens need to know that the carefree encounters they might see on TV and in the movies are unrealistic. In the real world, sex has consequences and being a parent is a lifelong responsibility.”
Adolescent moms are significantly less likely to receive their high school diploma than those who wait to have children. They are more likely to live in poverty, receive public assistance, and have long periods of welfare dependency. Teen fathers are also less likely to finish high school and are more likely to have lower paying jobs than their male peers who have children at an older age. Later in life, the daughters of teen mothers are themselves at high risk of having children in their adolescent years, and their sons have a higher chance of being incarcerated than the sons of older mothers.
Teen pregnancy can also lead to poor health outcomes for mother and baby. Lack of prenatal care often leads to pregnancy complications such as low birth weight, which affects nearly 10% of babies born to teen mothers.
“Adolescents need to hear these messages more than once. The National Day is a good time to start, but the consequences of teen pregnancy should be reiterated throughout the year, ideally from a variety of trusted sources—teachers, parents, and health professionals alike. We all play a role in reducing teen pregnancy,” Dr. Merritt added.
Access to reproductive health care before the onset of sexual activity provides teenagers with the information and an outlet to discuss questions and concerns. “This is an area where ob-gyns can make a huge impact. The College recommends that adolescents initially visit an ob-gyn between the ages of 13 and 15. It is the first step toward establishing a neutral ground where girls can go to get early and accurate information,” Dr. Guido noted. Ob-gyns can discuss contraceptive options, STDs, correct condom usage, and myths vs. facts regarding sex and sexuality.
As part of a long-standing interest in the development of adequate and comprehensive services for adolescents, especially in the area of reproductive health, the College has developed a Tool Kit for Teen Care. The Tool Kit helps ob-gyns optimize the care that they provide for their adolescent patients, providing a wide range of resources that can be incorporated into an ob-gyn practice—from tips on creating a teen-friendly office to educational materials that address health care for teens.
Ob-gyns are encouraged to participate in the National Day and other efforts to lower the rate of teen pregnancy. “We have a lot more to do, but our specialty is in a great position to help,” Dr. Guido said.
For more information, go to thenationalcampaign.org.
# # #
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is the nation’s leading group of physicians providing health care for women. As a private, voluntary, nonprofit membership organization of approximately 53,000 members, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly advocates for quality health care for women, maintains the highest standards of clinical practice and continuing education of its members, promotes patient education, and increases awareness among its members and the public of the changing issues facing women’s health care.