When offered free contraception and education about birth control methods, teens were far less likely to become pregnant or obtain an abortion compared to sexually active teens not on birth control, according to a new study.
Researchers offered teen participants long-acting forms of birth control at no cost, such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants, with high rates of effectiveness in preventing pregnancy. because of their superior effectiveness in preventing unintended pregnancies. They also offered them less-reliable birth control methods such as oral contraceptives and condoms.
About 500 teens in the study were aged 14-17 when they enrolled, and half of these minors had had a prior accidental pregnancy; 18 percent had undergone at least one abortion.
“When we removed barriers to contraception for teens such as lack of knowledge, limited access and cost in a group of teens, we were able to lower pregnancy, birth and abortion rates,” says Gina Secura, PhD, the study’s first author and director of the study, called the “CHOICE Project, in a news release. “This study demonstrates there is a lot more we can do to reduce the teen pregnancy rate.”
The study involved analyzing data in teens in the study of more than 9,000 St. Louis women and adolescents at high risk for accidental pregnancy who were willing to start using a new contraceptive method. Participants were given a choice of many contraceptives, including long-acting methods such as IUDs to short-acting methods such as birth control pills.
The results were that the annual pregnancy rate of teens aged 15-19 in the study averaged 34 per 1,000 from 2008-2013 compared to 158.5 per 1,000 sexually active teens not in the study in 2008. The average birth rate among the teens in the study from 2008-2013 was 19.4 per 1,000 compared with 94 per 1,000 in 2008 for sexually active teens not in the study.
Additionally, there were fewer abortions in the study participants. From 2008-2013, the abortion rate among teens in the study was 9.7 per 1,000 compared to 41.5 per 1,000 in 2008 for sexually active teens not in the study.
“The difference in pregnancy, birth and abortion rates between teens enrolled in the Contraceptive CHOICE Project and U.S. teens is remarkable,” says Jeffrey Peipert, MD, PhD, principal investigator of the CHOICE Project.
The teen pregnancy rate has decreased in the United States over the last 20 years, but it is still higher than in other industrialized nations, the researchers report. More than 600,000 U.S. teens become pregnant each year; three in 10 teens become pregnant before age 20.
Teen births have “negative health and social consequences,” according to the researchers. For example, in 2010, births by teen mothers cost the United States almost $10 billion in increased public assistance costs, health care resources, and lost income because of lower educational status and lower earnings.
A previous CHOICE study found that unplanned pregnancies and abortion rates were cut by a range of 62-78 percent compared with the national rate.
In the current CHOICE study, teens who used IUDs or implants used them longer than those who opted for shorter-acting methods such as the pill. After two years, two-thirds of teens in the study still were using IUDs and implants compared with only a third of teens still using shorter-acting methods such as birth control pills.
“We were pleasantly surprised by the number of teens choosing IUDs and implants and continuing to use them,” Peipert said. “It’s exciting that this study could provide insight into how to tackle this major health problem that greatly affects teens, their children and their communities.”