Birth control credited with drop in teen pregnancy

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The dramatic declines in teenage pregnancy rates noted in the United States between 1995 and 2002 were largely due to improved contraceptive use, not to abstinence, a new study shows.

“The current emphasis of U.S. domestic and global policies, which stress abstinence-only sex education to the exclusion of accurate information on contraception, is misguided,” warn doctors in a report just released online by the American Journal of Public Health.

Dr. John S. Santelli from Columbia University, New York, and colleagues examined the relative contribution of declining sexual activity and improved contraceptive use to the recent decline in pregnancy rates among U.S. women between the ages of 15 to 19 years. The data were derived from interviews with nearly 1400 women in 1995 and 1150 in 2002.

The investigators estimate that the likelihood of pregnancy in this age group declined 34 percent between 1995 and 2002, and that 86 percent of the decline in pregnancy risk was attributable to improved use of contraception. Reduced sexual activity explained only 14 percent of the decline in teen pregnancy.

Among younger teens 15 to 17 years old, increased contraceptive use was responsible for 77 percent of the pregnancy risk decline while decreased sexual activity was responsible for 23 percent of the decline.

Among 18 to 19-year-olds, the decline in pregnancy risk was entirely due to improved contraceptive use, which includes increases in the use of birth control pills, condoms, or both.

“These data suggest that the U.S. appears to be following patterns seen in other developed countries where increased availability and increased use of modern contraceptives have been primarily responsible for declines in teenage pregnancy rates,” Santelli and colleagues write.

“Our findings,” they conclude, “raise questions about current U.S. government policies that promote abstinence from sexual activity as the primary strategy to prevent adolescent pregnancy.”

SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health, January 2007.