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(Reuters) - Long after completing an 18-month program designed to teach them about contraception and healthy relationships, U.S. teens at high risk for pregnancy were still using contraceptives more often, among other safe sexual practices, a U.S. study said.
The teen pregnancy rate in the United States is the highest in the developed world, researchers writing in JAMA Pediatrics said. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2011 31 out of every 1,000 U.S. teenage girls between the ages of 15 and 19 gave birth to a baby.
But researchers in Minnesota developed and tested an approach to teen pregnancies based on providing access to birth control methods and information as well as building the girls' sense of connectedness to family and society.
"Our study shows that when we invest in young people through ongoing one-on-one relationships, through opportunities to lead and access to sex and health services, we really support the next generation of citizens," said Renee Sieving, the study's lead author from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
For the study, Sieving's team recruited 253 sexually active girls between 13 and 17 years old from clinics in St. Paul and Minneapolis, to be randomly placed in one of two groups.
All would get standard care at the clinic, but half would also be enrolled in the researchers' youth development program.
At the study's outset, just over half of all the girls in both groups, around 56 percent, were using condoms on more than half of the occasions that they had sex. More than 40 percent said they used condoms less than half of the time.
Just 2 percent of girls in each group were also on some other type of birth control, such as the Pill.
One group of 127 girls did not receive any special attention, other than the clinic's standard care and guidance. The other 126 girls were assigned to the new program.
Each girl in the program got a case manager who taught about healthy relationships, contraceptive use and how to become more involved with school and family. Those teens also went through training to educate others about what they were learning.
Six months after the 18-month program ended, the teens were asked about their sexual behavior.
Girls who did not go through the program ended up using a condom during sex less consistently than they had two years earlier. But the girls who went through the program did 50 percent better at using a condom every time they had sex than they had when the study began.
The use of other contraceptives increased in both groups, but especially the group that went through the special program.
Those girls were also more likely to say they were close with their family, and were more confident in turning down unwanted sex. In addition, they were also more likely to go to college or technical school, Sieving said.
"The kids we're working with are oftentimes struggling in school - the kid in the back of the room you don't often hear from, and we give them tools," Sieving said.
"You watch them move from 'I don't really have anything that's of any use to anybody,' to 'Wow, I have stuff to contribute! So it's really cool to see that shift in how they see themselves." SOURCE: bit.ly/V9WKBO
Reporting from New York by Andrew Seaman at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine Lies