Teen pregnancy rate up for 1st time in more than 10 years
■ Experts say physicians can help stop increases by educating adolescent patients and their parents about pregnancy prevention.
The nation's pregnancy rate for teens ages 15 to 19 increased in 2006, after more than a decade-long decline, according to a January report by the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that conducts research on reproductive health.
The report found that after falling 41% between 1990 and 2005, the pregnancy rate among this age group climbed 3% to 71.5 pregnancies per 1,000 women in 2006. The teen abortion rate also increased for the first time in more than a decade, inching up 1% from 2005 to 2006.
"It's a serious concern. Whether this is going to be a blip or a trend, we still don't know," said Janet Realini, MD, MPH, president of Healthy Futures, a San Antonio, Texas, nonprofit that works to prevent teen and unwanted pregnancies in the city. "It means we have to redouble our efforts and use what works."
Physicians, Dr. Realini said, can play an important role by educating adolescent patients and their parents about preventing pregnancy and helping them access contraception. She recommended that physicians advocate in their communities for programs such as medically accurate comprehensive sex education in schools that teach children about abstinence and safe sex.
"That's a big job, and family physicians have a lot of other big jobs to do, but it's a very important part of adolescent care," Dr. Realini said.
In 2006, about 742,990 women ages 15 to 19 became pregnant in the United States, according to the Guttmacher report. That figure was up from 712,610 pregnant teens in 2005.
The report also highlights racial disparities. While the gap has closed between pregnancy rates for black and Hispanic teenagers (126.3 and 126.6 pregnancies per 1,000, respectively), the rate for white teens was nearly three times lower at 44 pregnancies per 1,000.
"Clearly, we have some work to do in eliminating these disparities," said Lawrence Finer, PhD, director of domestic research at the Guttmacher Institute.
He said research indicates that the decline in the teen pregnancy rate from 116.0 pregnancies per 1,000 women in 1990 to 69.5 pregnancies per 1,000 women in 2005 was due largely to more contraceptive use among teens. The rate increase in 2006, Finer said, occurred about the same time the federal government shifted its resources from comprehensive sex education programs to abstinence-only programs.
Comprehensive programs are the most effective because they cover abstinence and contraception, he added.
The American Medical Association adopted a report at its Annual Meeting in June 2009 indicating that sex education providing information about abstinence, condom use and other contraceptive methods is the most effective way to reduce teen pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.