November 10, 2015 — U.S. women on birth control increasingly are opting to use long-acting reversible contraception, although oral contraception remains the most popular form of birth control, according to a report released Tuesday from the National Center for Health Statistics, the New York Times reports (Tavernise, New York Times, 11/10).
For the study, researchers used information from a national health survey to assess contraceptive use among U.S. women of childbearing age (Neighmond, "Shots," NPR, 11/10). According to the Times, health experts have suggested that increased LARC use could help curb the rate of unintended pregnancy in the U.S., which accounts for about 50% of pregnancies each year.
Key Findings on LARC Use
The researchers found that about 62% of U.S. women used some form of birth control over the 2011-2013 period, and 11.6% of them used LARC methods. In contrast, about 6% of women using birth control between 2006 and 2010 and 2.4% of women using birth control in 2002 used LARC methods (New York Times, 11/10). In total, 4.4 million U.S. women used LARC between 2011 and 2013 ("Shots," NPR, 11/10).
According to the Times, LARC is the "fastest-growing" contraceptive choice, and an increase in the use of intrauterine devices has been a key factor behind the increase in LARC use. Among women who used birth control in the 2011-2013 period, 10.3% used an IUD, while 1.3% had an implant.
When broken down by race, the researchers found that LARC was used by 15.1% of Hispanic women using contraception, compared with 11.4% of white women and 8.6% of black women. Meanwhile, the researchers noted that LARC use did not vary considerably with educational levels (New York Times, 11/10).
Use of Other Methods
The researchers also found that use of other methods, such as oral contraceptives, condoms and female sterilization, has declined over the past decade ("Shots," NPR, 11/10). However, oral contraceptives were the most popular contraceptive method in the 2011-2013 period, used by 26% of birth control users. Meanwhile, about 25% of women who chose to use a birth control method in that time period opted for sterilization, while about 15% of them used condoms.
The researchers found that female sterilization was more common among contraceptive users who had less education. About 40% of women who had a high school education or the equivalent selected sterilization as their contraceptive method, compared with 15% of women who had at least a bachelor's degree. Meanwhile, about one-third of women with a bachelor's degree or higher used oral contraceptives, while only 13% of women with a high school diploma or less reported using the pill (New York Times, 11/10).
Possible Reasons for Uptake in LARC Use
Megan Kavanaugh, senior research scientist at the Guttmacher Institute, noted that medical associations have endorsed LARC, and she suggested that the recent increase in LARC use could be driven by the increasing number of providers who are trained in LARC insertion. In addition, she noted that the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148) requires insurers to cover certain birth control methods, including LARC, which could be a reason for their increasing popularity.
Kavanaugh also noted that LARC could be particularly useful for adolescents and women in their 20s. She said in her own research, women in those age groups have indicated that it is difficult to remember to take contraception daily. She added that LARC's effectiveness is "similar to [that of] sterilization" ("Shots," NPR, 11/10).