City teen birth rate at 4-decade low

Improved birth control, fear of AIDS play roles

October 22, 2003|By David Kohn | David Kohn,SUN STAFF

Baltimore recorded its lowest teen birth rate in at least four decades, city health officials announced yesterday, an improvement they attributed to more effective contraceptives, fear of AIDS and increased education efforts.

In 2001, the latest year for which statistics are available, 8.3 percent of Baltimore females ages 15 to 19 had babies -- two-tenths of a percentage point lower than the rate in 2000. Ten years ago, 11.4 percent of that group gave birth.

The decrease, which mirrors a national trend, means that Baltimore has the 16th-highest teen birth rate among large American cities -- down from eighth in 1991.

"This is a 27 percent drop in a decade, and a 9 percent drop in the last four years. So we're really making progress," said Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, Baltimore's health commissioner, speaking at a news conference yesterday.

Increased access to contraceptives played a large role in the decrease, Beilenson and other city health officials said. He noted that free contraceptives are available at 20 school-based health clinics, as well as two city-run adolescent health centers.

Longer-lasting forms of birth control have made it easier for teens to avoid getting pregnant, said Dr. Cindy Mobley, a pediatrician who runs the city's Healthy Teens and Young Adults Center on North Avenue. She pointed in particular to Depo-Provera, a hormone injection that works for as long as 13 weeks.

She also mentioned two other recent birth control innovations: the Ortho Evra skin patch, which lasts for a week, and the NuvaRing, a vaginal contraceptive that lasts for three weeks, and causes less weight gain than other methods.

Increasingly concerned about AIDS, teens are also using condoms more frequently, Beilenson said. He also said that abstinence has played a role, noting that many high schools have student-led abstinence support groups.

City health officials also praised an intensive program that tries to prevent teen pregnancy by getting students to focus on long-term goals.

The program has been used in Baltimore since 1997. For three hours a day, 50 weeks a year, 100 students attend the program, which offers tutoring, counseling, arts, sports and job training.

The city's teen birth rate has decreased steadily since 1960, when almost one in five teen-age girls were having children.

Over the past decade, the teen birth rate has fallen nationwide. Last year, 4.3 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 gave birth, down from 6.2 percent in 1991.

"Sexually active teen-agers are using contraceptives, and these contraceptives are more effective," said David Landry, an analyst with the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization in New York that researches reproductive health. But he noted that the U.S. rate is much higher than those of other developed countries.

"So we have a long way to go," he said.

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