U.S. Teenage Birth Rate Decreases to Record Low in 2002, Report Finds
The U.S. teenage birth rate in 2002 reached a record low since the government started collecting statistics on teen births in the 1940s, according to a report released Friday by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, the Los Angeles Times reports. The report, which compiles 25 "key" indicators of child well-being from 20 federal agencies, says that the teen birth rate has decreased by 40% since 1991 (Tytell, Los Angeles Times, 7/16). The teen birth rate in 2002 was 23 births per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 17, compared with 25 births per 1,000 girls in 2001 (Fox, Reuters, 7/16). African-American girls had the largest decrease in teen births, and births among girls ages 18 to 19 decreased to "historic" lows, the report says, according to the Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles Times, 7/16). "The drop in adolescent birth rate is one of the biggest success stories," Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at NIH, said (Reuters, 7/16). According to Alexander, teenage girls who give birth are less likely to finish high school or graduate from college than other girls their age, the AP/Salt Lake Tribune reports (McDonough, AP/Salt Lake Tribune, 7/16).
The report also says that infant mortality increased and more low-birthweight infants were born in 2002, according to the Los Angeles Times. According to the report, there were seven infant deaths per 1,000 births in 2002, representing a "small but significant" increase in infant mortality, according to the Los Angeles Times. Edward Sondik, director of the National Center for Health Statistics, said that better fetal medicine that allows infants to survive birth but cannot prevent their deaths in the first weeks of life could be responsible for the increase in infant mortality, according to the Los Angeles Times. According to preliminary statistics from 2003, the infant mortality rate has likely "leveled off." The percentage of infants born weighing fewer than 5.5 pounds increased to 7.8% in 2002, continuing a 20-year trend that could be related to an increase in the use of fertility treatments, which has led to more multiple births (Los Angeles Times, 7/16).
The report also found that the number of overweight children in the United States increased to 16% between 1999 and 2000, compared with 11% in the early 1990s and 6% in the late 1970s. According to the report, 27% of Mexican-American boys and 23% of black, non-Hispanic girls were overweight. The increased number of overweight children "jeopardizes our children's future, making them vulnerable to chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension previously associated more with adults than with children," Sondik said. Alexander added, "This is a trend that's been at work since 1980 ... and as a trend, it shows no sign of reversing" (McDonough, AP/Newark Star-Ledger, 7/16).
Meanwhile, a study published in the August issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health found that an increase in both sexual abstinence and contraception use has led to declines in teen pregnancy since 1991, Reuters Health reports. Dr. John Santelli of CDC and colleagues examined CDC data sets showing trends in teenage sexual activity and contraception use to estimate changes in teen pregnancy and then compared the estimates to documented declines in teen pregnancy among girls ages 15 to 17. The percentage of high school girls who have become sexually active decreased from 51% to 43% from 1991 to 2001, and researchers noted an increase in condom use among teens. Santelli said that the researchers discovered that the "behaviors line up with the changes in pregnancy rates" (McCook, Reuters Health, 7/15).
Researchers said that 53% of the decrease in teen pregnancy can be attributed to sexual abstinence and 47% can be attributed to increased contraceptive use, according to the Washington Times. Bill Albert, spokesperson for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, said, "I think what one of the primary contributions of this study is that it indicates that convincing kids to delay sex is not an impossible mission, number one; and number two, for those kids who are sexually active, it is critically important for them to use contraception consistently and carefully." Pia de Solenni, director of life and women's issues for the Family Research Council, said, "It just goes to show you that even though the focus has been largely on contraception, that where abstinence is promoted, it does work" (McCown, Washington Times, 7/16).