State Teenage Birth Rate Has Decreased By 40% Since 1991, Report Finds
The state teenage birth rate has decreased by more than 40% since 1991, when the state began teaching comprehensive sex education in schools, according to a report the California Wellness Foundation presented to state lawmakers last week, the Ventura County Star reports. The report indicates that the state now has the 21st highest teen birth rate in the nation, compared with the 11th highest in 1991. According to Department of Health Services statistics, the birth rate among girls ages 15 to 19 has decreased from 73 to 41.1 per 1,000 teens between 1991 and 2002 (Freedenberg, Ventura County Star, 5/13). Nationwide, birth rates among teens decreased 30% between 1991 and 2002. The state's teen birth rate is only slightly lower than the national average of 43 per 1,000 teens (AP/Oakland Tribune, 5/10).
Several trend analysts attribute the decline in teen birth rates to California's comprehensive sex education program in schools, the Star reports. California is the only state that does not accept federal sex education grants, which are contingent upon schools teaching only abstinence and not providing information on birth control (Ventura County Star, 5/13). In California, schools are required to teach that abstinence is the only 100% effective way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, but with parental approval, students also are taught about various contraceptive methods (AP/Oakland Tribune, 5/10). "Kids are using birth control ... and are also delaying the onset of sexual intercourse or activity," Christine Lyon, vice president of public affairs at Planned Parenthood, said, adding, "We know that is a result of education." Lyon said that Planned Parenthood's state media campaign to provide condoms to low- and moderate-income teens free of charge or at low cost also contributed to the decline. According to DHS spokesperson Norma Arceo, programs such as the Community Challenge Grant Program, which funds 130 community-based programs designed to decrease teen pregnancy, have contributed to the reduced teen birth rates. Mary Ann Ambroselli, director of the Ventura County Crisis Pregnancy Center, which advocates abstinence-only education, said the teen birth rate may have decreased so significantly because of a reporting system that does not include statistics on teenage girls who terminate their pregnancies, according to the Star. Ambroselli added, "I've seen some decline, but I wouldn't say it's as much as 40%" (Ventura County Star, 5/13). However, the decreasing trend in birth rates is expected to begin reversing in three years because of a growing teenage population, "leading to a 23% increase in the number of teens births per year by 2008," according to the Department of Finance. The increase is expected to be highest among Latinos, whose birth rate is 70.4 per 1,000 teens, according to DHS (Whitney, Contra Costa Times, 5/9).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.