Teen Pregnancy Rate Shows Decline

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Some good news on the health front: The National Center for Health Statistics reports that the pregnancy rate among black teens has dropped to its lowest rate ever. Stephanie Ventura, who heads the center's Natality Division, explains the latest numbers.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

There's no shortage of bad health headlines these days, so we thought we'd give you some good news. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that the pregnancy rate among black teens has dropped to its lowest rate ever.

For more, we have Stephanie Ventura. She's chief of the Natality Division at the National Center for Health Statistics. Welcome.

Ms. STEPHANIE VENTURA (Natality Division Chief, National Center for Health Statistics): Thank you very much for having me.

CHIDEYA: So when we say that the teen pregnancy rate has dropped, do we mean pregnancy or talking about a drop in babies born to teens?

Ms. VENTURA: Well, we can actually be talking about both on this case. Pregnancy rates would include both medical(ph) births, abortions and miscarriages. And for those rates - the rates for blacks have dropped to their lowest levels ever. And just looking at teen birth rates, just - you know, live birth outcome, those rates have also dropped very, very steeply in the last 10 or 15 years.

CHIDEYA: So give us a comparison between the last decade and this one.

Ms. VENTURA: Okay. Well, looking at the birth rates because those are the most current that we have like, we have data through 2005, the birth rate has dropped to both 48 percent for African-American teenagers, and that's the steepest decline of any group. It's down to about 61 births per thousand. That could translate to about six births - six percent of all black teenagers having a baby in 2005.

CHIDEYA: So do we have any idea why this drop has happened?

Ms. VENTURA: Well, the rates had - actually for all groups, black, white, Hispanic and so forth, those rates have actually been increasing pretty steeply in the late 1980s. It's hard to remember, that seems so long ago. But about the early 1990s, people got very energized about that. There were - there was a lot of concern about the direction of the rates were heading.

And so a lot of programs were in, you know, installed kind of public, private governmental, all kinds of programs not on - no federal mandate here. Just programs around the country that were targeted to address, you know, the issues that were affecting teen birth rates. And, not just sexual activity or contraception, but more like a positive youth development model with trying to address improvements in educational attainment and inspire teenagers to complete their education, get good jobs, and then think about having families, so that all started in the early 1990s, and it has had a tremendous impact on all groups but especially on black teenagers.

CHIDEYA: Finally, just one bit of not so great news. Can you tell us about the low birth weight of black infants?

Ms. VENTURA: Yes, that's a low birth weight in the pre-term birth. Those are two different measures. One is, you know, how the gestational - how long the pregnancy lasted and the other is actually the birth weight when the child is born. Those measures are both - have not been good for black infants of, you know, regardless of the age of the mother.

And in fact, those measures have been increasing for all groups, which is very troubling in the last few years. But in general, the rates for blacks tend to be, you know, close to twice the rates for whites, which is, you know, way too high. And it's certainly a very serious matter because pre-term birth and low birth weight are very - are both very important risk factors for, you know, poor infant development and, you know, lifelong health issues.

CHIDEYA: So Stephanie, thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. VENTURA: Okay. Thank you very much.

CHIDEYA: Stephanie Ventura is chief of the Natality Division at the National Center for Health Statistics.

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