Teenage Pregnancy Rates Fall Under New Government Strategy
The number of teenage pregnancies has dropped by nearly 10 percent since the introduction of a new government strategy, independent research has revealed.
And Professor Kaye Wellings of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) said the government's Teenage Pregnancy Strategy, which started four years ago, seemed to be working.
She added: "The Teenage Pregnancy Strategy has made encouraging headway, especially in the most deprived areas of the country, and has reduced the gap between England and the rest of Europe.
"This fall is a reversal of the upward trend seen in the period just before the strategy was implemented and a change from the largely static rates of the previous two decades."
Prof Wellings, an expert in reproductive and sexual health, was speaking after the launch of an independent evaluation of the government's strategy, carried out by a team of researchers from LSHTM, University College, London (UCL), and the British Market Research Bureau.
The massive survey tracked 9000 teenagers aged 13-21 across England and more than 7000 parents of youngsters aged 10-17 over the four years between 2000-04.
Lead author of the report Prof. Wellings said the findings were particularly good given that teenage pregnancy rates in comparable European countries - including Germany, Denmark, France and Holland - were either static or increasing.
The study also found that the proportion of young people who believed the majority of their peers were having under-age sex fell between 2000-04. Over the same period, young men's use of family planning services rose by nine percent to 29 percent.
Prof. Wellings said that it was still too early to say which elements of the strategy were working best.
But she added that the study showed that teenage pregnancy rates have fallen more steeply in areas of social deprivation and low educational attainment - as well as in areas given more funding to implement the government's strategy.
LSHTM public health specialist Dr Paul Wilkinson said: "This suggests that targeting areas of greatest need has been cost-effective."
UCL's Dr Judith Stephenson, a sexual health expert, said the team's findings showed that the more sex education lessons young women received, the less likely they were to have become pregnant before the age of 18.
She added: "The study reinforces the importance of school sex education as a source of learning about sex for young people."
And Dr Stephenson called for sex and relationships education to be a mandatory part of the existing Personal, Social and Health Education programme (PSHE) in schools.
But Prof. Wellings warned that teenage pregnancy rates in England remained highest in western Europe - and that the next six years of the strategy faced a major challenge in preventing early pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infections.
She added that a higher proportion of young people in England had sex at an early age - and failed to use contraception - compared with their counterparts in Europe.
The study also showed an increase in the number of young people who reported using no contraception in the previous four weeks - although there was no increase in the most deprived areas where the government strategy appeared to be having the strongest impact.
Prof Wellings said: "It is clearly vital that we continue to address deprivation - things which selectively advantage young people from more deprived backgrounds seem to be most effective in reducing teenage conception rates."
She added that a creative approach to education for young women in particular could cut pregnancy rates even more.
She said: "Innovative approaches are needed under the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy to empower young people, especially young girls, to resist pressure to become sexually active before they are ready to make positive and informed choices.
"We are not talking about preaching abstinence. We're talking about giving young people, particularly young women, the power and confidence to delay early sexual activity which they themselves report regretting."