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The role of health care services in preventing teen pregnancy

Photo: D Sharon Pruitt via Flickr

Teen birth rates have hit a historic low nationwide. However, when comparing the United States’ teenage birth rates to that of other countries, it becomes clear that the U.S. has a long way to go.

According to the United Nations Demographic Yearbook, 34 out of every 1000 15 to 19 year old girls gave birth in the U.S. in 2010, while in other industrialized nations, that number ranged from only 5 to 17 per 1000.

Birth and pregnancy rates are especially high among black and Hispanic youth and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, according to the 2012 National Vital Statistics Reports.

Renee Sieving, Ph.D., R.N., F.S.A.H.M., an associate professor with the Center for Adolescent Nursing in the University of Minnesota School of Nursing and adjunct associate professor in the University’s Department of Pediatrics, is investigating ways to lower U.S. teen pregnancy rates further.

“For many teens, comprehensive sexuality education is enough to prevent teen pregnancy,” said Sieving. “But for others who are most vulnerable to early pregnancy, sexuality education combined with one-on-one mentorship and leadership opportunities are necessary.”

A recent NIH-funded study led by Sieving found that an 18-month intervention program providing teens one-on-one mentoring and leadership opportunities promoted lasting improvements in contraceptive use in teenage girls at high risk for pregnancy. The results were recently published in JAMA Pediatrics.

According to Sieving, the replication of this model programs in clinics and schools could help provide much-needed preventative services to at-risk teens. This preventative care could be provided via one-on-one interventions with a professional mentor and leadership opportunities in a clinical or school setting.

The costs of such a program would be comparable to that of the successful “Big Brother, Big Sisters” program, Sieving said.

Teen pregnancy often results in emotional, educational and economic costs. One half of teen mothers nationwide do not graduate from high school. In 2008 alone, teen pregnancy resulted a $10.9 billion cost to U.S. taxpayers.

“In times of tight budgets, it’s especially important to focus on what works,” said Sieving. “When we invest in young people through ongoing one-on-one relationships, opportunities for leadership and effective sexual health services, we support our next generation of citizens and save taxpayers money.”

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