Interventions in early childhood and adolescence help reduce teenage pregnancy and could be included in public policy according to a systematic review by Angela Harden and colleagues published free in the British Medical Journal last week.
The United Kingdom and United States have high teenage pregnancy rates, and although early parenthood can be positive it is also associated with a wide range of adverse health and social issues. Sex education and better sex health services have traditionally been used to reduce teenage pregnancy rates but recent research suggests they are not effective on their own. This has led to efforts to address the social and economic difficulties associated with early pregnancy and parenthood.
The researchers conducted a systematic review, including a statistical meta-analysis (combines all the results in one analysis), to examine the quality of ten trials that investigated interventions to prevent early parenthood and five qualitative studies that examined young people’s views on early parenthood in the UK. They found that teenage pregnancy rates were 39% lower in individuals that received an intervention (like pre-school education, parent training or promotion of self esteem) compared to those that received standard practice or no intervention at all. Three common themes emerged from the qualitative studies that contributed to early parenthood; including dislike of school, poor material circumstances and unhappy childhood, and low expectations for the future.
Childhood and adolescent programmes providing learning support to boost interest in school, guidance and social support to address an unhappy childhood and career development and work experience to increase aspirations in young people could all be useful to reduce teenage pregnancy. These strategies could be included in public policies to effectively address social disadvantage and teenage pregnancy. The researchers found only a limited amount of data on programmes to reduce teenage pregnancy so more work is needed to study the effectiveness of these interventions in preventing early parenthood.
Harden, A., Brunton, G., Fletcher, A., & Oakley, A. (2009). Teenage pregnancy and social disadvantage: systematic review integrating controlled trials and qualitative studies BMJ, 339 (nov12 1) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.b4254