Ed. note: This is cross-posted from The Huffington Post. Read the original post.
This May, as we observe National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, there is encouraging news to report in our nation's ongoing effort to prevent teen pregnancies. The latest figures released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that the decline in teen births seen over the past two decades has accelerated in recent years.
The report found that birth rates for teenagers aged 15-19 fell 25 percent nationwide during the five year period (2007-2011) covered by CDC's newest study, resulting in a new record low. Birth rates among Hispanic teens, which had been higher than other racial and ethnic groups, saw a remarkable 34 percent decline over the same five year time span.
- Teen birth rates fell at least 15% for all but two states during 2007–2011—the most recent period of sustained decline; rates fell 30% or more in seven states.
- Declines in rates were steepest for Hispanic teenagers, averaging 34% for the United States, followed by declines of 24% for non-Hispanic black teenagers and 20% for non-Hispanic white teenagers.
- The long-term difference between birth rates for non-Hispanic black and Hispanic teenagers has essentially disappeared, and by 2011 their rates were similar.
- Rates for Hispanic teenagers fell 40% or more in 22 states and the District of Columbia (DC); rates dropped at least 30% in 37 states and DC.
To what can we attribute this dramatic drop in teen births? There are a number of key factors, including stronger teen pregnancy prevention education, the choice by many teens to delay sex, and higher rates of contraceptive use by teens who are sexually active.
The Office of Adolescent Health (@TeenHealthGov) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is charged with taking the best thinking and evidence about teen pregnancy prevention strategies and disseminating it, and continuing to build evidence of the strategies that are most effective.
Those of us who are working to support adolescent health and reduce teen pregnancies are understandably encouraged by this positive news. The stakes are high for teens, their parents, local communities, and our entire nation. Compared with teens who delay childbearing, teen girls who have babies are less likely to finish high school or attend college; more likely to rely on public assistance; and more likely to live in poverty as adults. Furthermore, children born to teen mothers are more likely to have poorer educational, behavioral, and health outcomes over the course of their lives than children born to older parents. We know that schools play an essential role in supporting adolescent health. Research tells us that the longer children remain in school and engaged in learning, the better their life-long health.
While the news reported today is encouraging, there is more work to do. Significant racial and economic disparities persist. Teen birth rates for Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks are nearly double the national average.
In 2011, almost 330,000 babies were born to teen girls between the ages of 15 and 19 in the United States. The U.S. still lags behind other developed nations, including Canada and the United Kingdom, which have much lower teen birth rates.
Now is the time to accelerate momentum we have seen by continuing to engage and equip families, schools, health care providers, and communities to better address adolescent health issues, including teen pregnancy prevention.
To that end, the Office of Adolescent Health is working with partners and providing needed support to organizations working to prevent teen pregnancy and help pregnant and parenting teens. Our website, which includes a range of helpful adolescent health information, features a new Teen Pregnancy Prevention Resource Center with training materials and resources for grantees and other organizations working to reduce teen pregnancy. We've also created a database of evidence-based programs for reducing teen pregnancies in a broad range of settings and communities.
The historic declines in teen birth rates in recent years make it clear that our collective efforts are paying off. We applaud the efforts of all those working with adolescents, families and communities across our nation. Most of all, we applaud America's teens who are taking greater responsibility for their health and well-being, and parents who are talking to their teenage children about the importance of pregnancy prevention.
As we observe National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, we are committed to building on the progress reflected in CDC's new report by helping communities move forward with effective, proven strategies for reducing teen pregnancies. There is far too much at stake for us to turn back now.
For resources and information on teen pregnancy prevention programs, visit the online Teen Pregnancy Prevention Resource Center at http://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/
Follow the Office of Adolescent Health @TeenHealthGov
Dr. Howard Koh is the Assistant Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This post was co-authored by Evelyn M. Kappeler, Director of the Office of Adolescent Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services