Efforts to prevent teenage pregnancies appear to be working, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that showed an acceleration in the decline in teenage pregnancies over the past few years.

Released just as the United States observes National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, the May report found that birth rates for teenagers aged 15 to 19 reached a record low, falling 25 percent nationwide from 2007 to 2011.

Birth rates fell most dramatically among Hispanic youth, who previously had higher rates than other racial and ethnic groups. Latino youth saw a 34 percent decline in birth rates, followed by declines of 24 percent for non-Hispanic Black teenagers and 20 percent for non-Hispanic White teenagers.

Dr. Howard K. Koh, assistant secretary for health with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said the trend is attributable to several factors including stronger teen pregnancy prevention education, higher rates of contraceptive use by teens who are sexually active, and the choice by many teens to delay sex.

“Those of us who are working to support adolescent health and reduce teen pregnancies are understandably encouraged by this positive news,” Koh said in a column published by The Huffington Post. “The stakes are high for teens, their parents, local communities, and our entire nation.”

Research has shown that teen mothers are less likely to finish high school or attend college. They also have a higher probability of living in poverty and relying on welfare, and those adverse sociological factors—including poor educational, behavioral, and health outcomes—usually pass on to their children.

The declines in teen birth rates will help mitigate those trends, but Koh said there is still a lot of work to be done. Significant racial and economic disparities persist—teen birth rates for Hispanics and non-Hispanic Blacks are nearly double the national average. The U.S. also continues to lag behind other developed nations, which have much lower teen birth rates.

For example, in 2009, the U.S. teen birth rate was 37.9 births per 1,000 girls age 15 to 19, which was nearly two times the rate in the United Kingdom and three times the rate in Canada, according to the United Nations Demographic Yearbook 2009 to 2010.

Combating those statistics will demand the involvement of the entire society, Dr. Koh said.

“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,” he said.

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO