Despite big declines in younger teens giving birth, those 17 and younger still account for one in four teen births – more than 86,000 in 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday.
Many were ages 15-17, who had yet to finish high school and faced tougher prospects in education and later on in life, a CDC official said.
In the monthly Vital Signs report, CDC researchers found the rate of birth among girls 15-17 had declined 63 percent from 1991 to 2012, from 38.6 per 1,000 to 14.1 per 1,000. In Georgia from 1994 to 2012, it declined 68 percent, from 48.9 to 15.8 per 1,000, and in Richmond County that decline was 60 percent, from 58.1 to 23.1 per 1,000, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health Online Analytical Statistical Information System.
Although that is good news, teens in that age group are often still working on their education, said Dr. Ileana Arias, the principal deputy director of the CDC.
“The younger teen years, that is, 15-17, are a critical time when a teen, especially a young woman, could jeopardize her future if she can’t complete high school or go to college,” Arias said. “Our young women and men who are parents may face difficulties in reaching their dreams even with the best social support.”
There are bright spots in the report, which included a survey of people of reproductive ages 15-44, said Dr. Lee Warner, the lead research scientist for the Division of Reproductive Health at the CDC. Nearly three-fourths of teens ages 15-17 reported they had not had sex, he said.
“That’s good news, but the question is whether they are prepared to take precautions if and when they embark on a sexual relationship,” Warner said.
For instance, 83 percent of that age group who had sex reported that they had not received any formal sex education first.
“This statistic reveals something very important: We are missing opportunities to deliver prevention messages before younger teens start having sex,” Warner said. “These messages should include how to say no to sex and yes to considering the most effective methods of contraceptive use.”
About six in 10 said they received information on both, and 44 percent said they discussed both with parents. Improving those communications is key, Arias said.
There is an initiative to combat teen pregnancy among ages 15-19 in Richmond County, but that younger group is a target, said Dr. Donna Elliston, the project director for the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power and Potential.
The group has a $7.5 million grant from CDC to reduce teen pregnancy in the county and is working with community groups to implement those programs.
“In the teen pregnancy prevention programs that have been facilitated by a lot of our community partners … especially in that 15-17 year old group, it’s been proven to be very effective,” she said. “Yes, that age category is certainly a concern for us.”
It can be especially effective with those yet to engage in sex, Elliston said.
“When you provide young people with the resources, the education that they need, then that certainly arms them with the tools to make an informed decision prior to initiating sex,” she said.
The group and its partners can provide students with information they might not get at school or elsewhere, Elliston said.
“What’s been really effective in this initiative is we have been able to meet the kids where they are,” the project director said. “Certainly, working with the parents as well as the youth-serving organizations and, in particular, the clinics providing these comprehensive reproductive health services has certainly contributed to the success of the initiative.”
Teen pregnancy declined among ages 15-19 by almost 20 percent between 2011 and 2012 in Richmond County, according to the Georgia public health data.
“That certainly says to us that we are doing something that works and we’re doing something right,” Elliston said.