CDC: Teen pregnancy rate down, but there's still work to do

One in four teenagers have never talked to their parents about sex, study finds

Published: April 8 2014 | 4:04 pm - Updated: 8 April 2014 | 10:14 pm in News,

The number of teenage births has fallen dramatically across the country over the last two decades, but even still 86,000 girls aged 15 to 17 years old gave birth in 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

The majority of teens in this age group (73 percent) have not had sex. But part of the problem, the CDC said, is that one in four teenagers have never talked to their parents about sex, and 80 percent aren't receiving any formal education before they had sex for the first time.

"We're missing opportunities to educate teenagers," said Dr. Lee Warner, a senior scientist with CDC's division of reproductive health, during a media briefing.

In Iowa, there were 2,532 births to mothers aged 15 to 19 years old in 2012, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health. This is down from 3,629 in 2008.

For Linn and Johnson counties, the birth rate for teens aged 15 to 19 was 54.4 per 1,000 and 27.9 per 1,000, respectively.

"Teen pregnancy and birth has declined, but we can't become complacent," said Ileana Arias, the CDC's principal deputy director.

Becoming a teen mom affects whether the mother finishes high school, goes to college, and the type of job she will get, the CDC said.

The report, which analyzed the National Survey of Family Growth an ongoing survey that tracks marriage, divorce, pregnancy and use of contraception, found that the teenage birth rate is highest among minorities.

The birth rate for Hispanics aged 15 to 17 years old is 25.5 per 1,000, while it's 21.9 for black teens and 8.4 for white teens.

Similar patterns are seen in Iowa, where the birth rate for minority youth is disproportionately higher than the overall teen birth rate of 24 per 1,000 female teenagers aged 15 to 19 years old.

According to a 2014 report by Eyes Open Iowa, an advocacy group that works with educators to ensure adolescent sexual health, the birth rate for Latina teens was 68 per 1,000 and 64 per 1,000 for black teens.

The group's executive director Kristin Fairholm said there's no magic age to start talking to kids about sex, but it's important for parents and educators to set the right foundation.

"It takes a village. Kids need the message to be reinforced," she said.

State law requires public schools to provide age-appropriate and research-based instruction in human growth and development in grades one through twelve. But Fairholm said education varies from county to county and can often be outdated.

Access to contraception is another important piece of the puzzle. The 2014 report found that 39 percent of sexually active teenagers did not use a condom at last sexual intercourse and 63 percent did not use birth control pills.

But Fairholm said it's a challenging landscape especially for teenagers in rural areas.

"(Rural teens) have to go to the doctor's office with their parents, or Johnny's mom works there or they can't buy contraception over the counter. For instance, a lot of rural areas just have a Casey's, which doesn't stock condoms."

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