By Dr. Geoffrey Modest
MMWR found a decrease in teen birth rates and prior disparities for those aged 15-19, comparing 2013-14 with 2006-7 (see http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm6516a1.htm?s_cid=mm6516a1_w ).
- From 1991-2014, the overall birth rate among those 15-19 yo declined 61% !!!, from 61.8 to 24.2 births/1000 women, and is currently the lowest ever recorded
- Nationally, from 2006 – 2014 the teen birthrate decreased 41% overall, comparing 2006-7 and 2013-14:
- 35% among whites (from 26.7 to 17.3/1000 teens)
- 51% decrease among Hispanics (from 77.4 to 38.0/1000 teens), with the birth rate ratio vs whites declining from 2.9 to 2.2
- 44% decrease among blacks (from 61.9 to 34.9/1000 teens), with the birth rate ratio vs whites declining from 2.3 to 2.0
- By states, all had pretty dramatic decreases, the least in N Dakota at 13.4% and West Virginia at 14.9%, the most in Arizona at 47.8%, Connecticut at 47.6% and Colorado at 47.6%; almost all the other states are in the 30-40% range
- There was huge variation of teen birth rates by county: from 3.1 to 119.0/1000 females aged 15-19. The highest birth rates being in Texas and much of the south (New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia)
- For the states in the highest quintile of teen birth rates, the mean % of the population >15yo who are unemployed, mean % of population >24yo with an associates degree or higher, and mean family income were 10.5%, 19.9% and $46,005; in the lowest quintile, those numbers were 7.6%, 40.4%, and $73,967 and p<0.001 for all comparisons
So, a few observations:
- It is certainly welcoming that the racial disparity gap is improving, but it has a long way to go
- In some states this reflected a cross-ethnic consistency – e.g. in New Jersey: the teen birth rate in 2013-4 among whites was 4.8/1000 (below the national average of 18.0), for blacks was 27.4/1000 and Hispanics 31.3/1000 (also below the national averages of 37.0 and 39.8), though still a pretty staggering 6-7 fold higher than for whites
- But in others, the disparities diverged: e.g. Nebraska, birth rate for whites was 16.2 (approx the national average) whereas the rates for black and Hispanic (42.6 and 53.9) were far above the national average for these groups.
- The county-by-county map basically shows the highest teen birth rates are in the South, and largely coincides with those states there that refused to expand Medicaid through Obamacare
- And, not so surprisingly, high teen birth rates also coincide with those states with the highest poverty rates and (somewhat less impressively, though pretty clearly) with highest numbers of African-Americans and Hispanics (see: map for poverty: http://www.povertyusa.org/the-state-of-poverty/poverty-map-state/# ; map for racial disparities: https://www.google.com/search?safe=active&espv=2&biw=1280&bih=899&site=imghp&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=&bih=&q=map+of+ethnicities&oq=ethnicities+map&gs_l=img.1.0.0i8i30.15110.19529.0.2222.214.171.124.126.96.36.199.960.10j2.12.0….0…1ac.1.64.img..1.18.983…0j0i24.p9s7jYX4pj8#safe=active&tbm=isch&q=map+of+ethnicities&chips=q:map+of+ethnicities,g_1:usa&imgrc=WU9o2tjooIVI-M%3A )
- The US Dept of Health and Human Services has been funding community-wide initiatives in 9 communities with some of the highest teen birth rates, focusing on black and Hispanic teens, with a goal to address the social determinants of health at the community level. Mostly these have focused on access to health care services and pregnancy prevention programs [but, not really looking at the fundamental issues of poverty, unemployment, inadequate education, etc.]
- As a reference point, the adolescent birth rate is 34.2/1000 females in the US, 25.1 in the UK, 15.5 in Australia, and pretty much under 10 in the rest of Europe (see http://internationalcomparisons.org/intl_comp_files/sheet010.htm )
- So, to put this together: teen pregnancy is clearly decreasing in the US, with decreasing racial/ethnic disparities, but the US overall has the highest rate as compared to other resource-rich countries, and there are large discrepancies in different regions of the US, largely tracking those areas of poverty, racial disparities, and fewer federal resources (which in some cases are those states have chosen to reject). Again, this really speaks to the need for a national, coherent approach to the inequities in our society, as a basis to improve public health outcomes overall.