The number of teen pregnancies in the United States continues to drop, but health officials say more can be done to increase use of the most effective forms of birth control.
Officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported Tuesday that 90 percent of teens say they used birth control the last time they had sex.
While that’s a promising number, Ileana Arias, principal deputy director at the CDC, says teens are still mostly relying on condoms and birth control pills, two of the least effective methods.
The most effective kind, the CDC reports, is long-acting reversible contraception (LARC), which includes implants and intrauterine devices (IUDs).
“Long-acting reversible contraception is safe for teens, easy to use, and very effective,” Arias told reporters. “We need to remove barriers and increase awareness, access, and availability of long-acting reversible contraception, such as IUDs and implants.”
In 1991, there were 61.8 births per 1,000 teens ages 15 to 19. In 2013, the rate dropped to 26.5 births per 1,000 teens. That equates to 273,000 prevented births.
“The good news is that teens are taking responsibility for their reproductive health needs,” Lisa Romero, a health scientist in the CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health, said.
Efforts to improve access to LARC through the Title X National Family Planning Program, which funds 4,400 family planning centers nationwide, has helped reduce the teen birth rate, officials said.
LARC use among teens has increased more than 17-fold from 0.4 percent in 2005 to 7.1 percent in 2013, the study shows. LARC use was slightly higher in college-aged women than in their high school-aged counterparts.
Officials say more education and greater availability are keys to reducing the teen birth rate further.
Dr. Lee Warner, associate director for Science with the CDC's Division of Reproductive Health, said new IUDs have become available over the past 10 years, but anecdotal evidence shows some teens are still squeamish about how the devices work.
“Some teens may not become comfortable with an implant like an IUD being in an invasive place in their bodies,” he said.
Warner said that federal subsidies to cover the cost of LARC would further prevent unwanted teen pregnancies.
“If you look at is as an investment, it saves money over time,” he said.
Statewide use of LARC varies drastically. The highest LARC use among teens is 25.8 percent in Colorado with the lowest, 0.7 percent, in Mississippi.
The heavy reliance on condoms and birth control pills by teens raises concerns among health officials.
According to the CDC, condoms can result in pregnancy in 18 out of 100 cases. Birth control pills are also ineffective in about 18 out of 100 cases. LARC, on the other hand, prevents pregnancies in more than 99 out of 100 cases.
Still, condoms should be used along with LARC to protect against sexually transmitted diseases.
The CDC says healthcare professionals can do more to help by offering a broad range of birth control options for sexually active teens, and discussing the pros and cons of each.
Parents and other concerned adults should talk openly with teens about sex. They should encourage them not to have sex, but also help them find and use the most effective birth control should they become sexually active.
“The bottom line is that we want teens who are having sex to make an informed choice,” Arias said.