Teen Birth Rate Falls 5% to New Record Low, According to New CDC Report
The overall U.S. teen birth rate fell 5% last year to mark a new "record low," according to preliminary birth statistics released yesterday by the CDC. The report found that the overall birth rate dropped among females ages 15 to 19 from 48.5 births per 1,000 girls in 2000 to 45.9 births per 1,000 girls in 2001, with the largest gains made among teens between the ages of 15 and 17, who experienced an 8% decline in births last year. The birth rate declined among all racial and ethnic groups, with black teenagers experiencing the greatest decline (8%). The reduction in the number of births to teens is especially important for the health of both mothers and infants because teens are the least likely to receive "timely" prenatal care and are more likely to smoke and give birth to low-birthweight infants. HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson called the record low an "important milestone in our fight against teen pregnancy" (HHS release, 6/6). Researchers are not sure what factors led to the decline in teen births, but they say that higher levels of sexual abstinence and better use of contraceptives probably contributed to the decrease (Wetzstein, Washington Times, 6/7).
The report also showed that the proportion of caesarean births in the United States hit a 13-year high last year. In 2001, c-sections accounted for 24.4% of U.S. births, just below the all-time high of 25% recorded in 1988. C-sections declined in the early 1990s, after a national "outcry" that the procedure, which increases a woman's risk of death three to seven times over vaginal birth, was being overused, but the percentage of c-sections began increasing again in 1997. The AP/Washington Times reports that maternal preference was one force behind the increase, as many women elected to have the procedure, which involves a longer hospital stay and carries a higher risk of infection, even though they were "healthy enough to avoid" the procedure (AP/Washington Times, 6/7). About 17% of first-time mothers had c-sections last year, a 5% increase from 2000. The majority of c-sections were performed on women who had previously undergone a caesarean (AP/New York Times, 6/6).
The CDC report also found that the rate of births to unmarried women fell "slightly" in 2001; however, the proportion of births to the same group rose "slightly," from 33.2% in 2000 to 33.4% in 2001 (Washington Times, 6/7). Some of the report's other findings include the following:
- The rate of low-birthweight infants "held steady" at 7.6% in 2001;
- The percentage of women receiving early prenatal care rose to 83.4% in 2001 from 83.2% in 2000; and
- The birth rate among women between the ages of 20 and 24 declined 2% in 2001, reversing a slight increase in the birth rate in that age group in the last five years (McKenna,
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/7).