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CDC Report: Need for Better Sex Ed, Contraceptive Use Despite Record-Low Teen Births

CDC Report: Need for Better Sex Ed, Contraceptive Use Despite Record-Low Teen Births

April 9, 2014 — Teen birth rates have declined by nearly 63% since 1991, according to CDC data published Tuesday in the agency's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, NBC News reports.

For the report, CDC compiled data from the National Survey of Family Growth, an ongoing, in-person poll of thousands of U.S. residents (Fox, NBC News, 4/8).

Among teens ages 15 to 19, the birth rate fell from 84.1 births per 1,000 female teens in 1991 to 29.4 per 1,000 in 2012. About one in four teen births in 2012 were among teens ages 15 to 17, representing about 1,700 births each week (Bernstein, "To Your Health," Washington Post, 4/8).

The report did not include information on births to teens younger than age 15. The report also did not include data on abortions, miscarriages or stillbirths because recent figures were not available (Kaplan, "Science Now," Los Angeles Times, 4/8).

Findings on Sexual Activity

The data found that 73% of teens ages 15 to 17 have never had sex (NBC News, 4/8).

Specifically, 14.6% of 15-year-olds reported having had sex, with 8% saying they were sexually active within the past three months. The percentage of sexually active teens grew to 28.5% at age 16, with 16.5% reporting sexual activity within the past three months, and to 38.6% at age 17, with 29.7% reporting sexual activity within the previous three months ("Science Now," Los Angeles Times, 4/8).

Findings on Contraception

According to the report, more than 90% of teens who said they were sexually active reported using some type of contraception the last time they had sex (Adams, CQ HealthBeat, 4/8).

However, just 15% of sexually active teens reported using a contraceptive method characterized as at least "moderately" effective -- such as birth control pills, hormonal implants, vaginal rings or intrauterine devices -- the first time they had sex. By comparison, 62% of sexually active teens used a "less effective" method, like sponges, condoms, withdrawal or the rhythm method. Another 23% said they did not use contraception the first time they had sex ("Science Now," Los Angeles Times, 4/8).

Teen Birth Rates Vary by State, Ethnic Groups

The report found significant variations in teen birth rates from state to state.

The highest teen birth rates were in Arkansas; Mississippi; New Mexico; Texas; Oklahoma; Washington, D.C., and West Virginia. States with the lowest rates included Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont (NBC News, 4/8).

Among younger teens, Washington, D.C., had the highest teen birth rate overall in the younger age group, with 29 births per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 17, while New Hampshire had the lowest, at 6.2 births per 1,000 ("Science Now," Los Angeles Times, 4/8).

According to CDC, the differences in rates among states show that adequate education and parenting can help prevent teen pregnancy. Experts added that abstinence-only sex education programs in states like Mississippi and Texas likely contributed to their higher teen birth rates.

Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute said, "When you look at the bottom 10 or so" states with the lowest teen birth rates, "you generally are seeing states that have taken an approach mostly to increase access to family planning services, to look at sex education, to have a culture that is understanding of teen sexuality and trying to provide information or resources and the education that teens need" (NBC News, 4/8).

Variations in poverty levels, racial groups, attitudes toward teen births, and access to abortion and contraceptives, among other factors, also likely affected rates in different states, according to Guttmacher demographer Kathryn Kost ("To Your Health," Washington Post, 4/8).

Further, the report noted that teen birth rates were two to three times higher among Hispanic and African-American teens than they were among white teens (NBC News, 4/8).

Findings on Sex Education

The report found that about 91% of girls ages 15 to 17 reported having taken a formal sex education class that discussed contraceptive methods or ways to say no to having sex, while 61% said they had learned about both birth control and abstinence. Further, 76% of girls ages 15 to 17 said they had discussed contraception, abstinence or both with their parents.

Still, the report found that 83% of female teens who reported having had sex said they did not receive any sex education before the first time they had sex ("Science Now," Los Angeles Times, 4/8).

CDC Director Tom Frieden said, "Although we have made significant progress reducing teen pregnancy, far too many teens are still having babies." He added, "Efforts to prevent teen childbearing need to focus on evidence-based approaches to delaying sexual activity and increasing use of the most effective methods of contraception for those teens who are sexually active" (NBC News, 4/8).