Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Study says '16 and Pregnant' reality TV show is responsible for 5.7% decline in births to teens, but numbers still high in Kentucky

The MTV show "16 and Pregnant" has been highly criticized, not only for featuring pregnant teens, but because some of the cast members have since been arrested, gotten into trouble with drugs and alcohol, and one was featured in a sex tape. But, a study by researchers at the University of Maryland and Wellesley College for the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the show has actually helped lower the national rate of teen pregnancies, which are significantly higher in rural areas than urban ones. (MTV photo)

The rate of teen births dropped an average of 2.5 percent per year from 1991 to 2008, but from 2009, when the show premiered, to 2012, teen pregnancy has dropped 7.5 percent per year, according to the study. But it remains high. In 2012, more than 29 out of every 1,000 girls in the U.S. between the ages of 15 to 19 got pregnant, a rate higher than in any other developed country. In 2010, the rate was 33 per 1,000 girls, and in rural areas, 43 per 1,000, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy.

While national numbers have decreased, Kentucky has not fared as well. In 2008, Kentucky was ranked 19th in the U.S. in pregnancies among girls and women 15-19, but in 2011, it ranked seventh, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In 2011, the state had 6,111 known pregnancies among older teens and 6,127 among girls under 20. The rate of teen pregnancy dropped 37 percent from 1991, when there was an all-time high of 61.8 births per every 1,000 girls, to 2011, but dropped only 6 percent from 2010 to 2011. In 2011, the national average was 31.3 births per 1,000 girls and women aged 15-19, but in Kentucky the number was 43.5. (Read more)

For county-by-county data on teen births, from KentuckyHealthFacts.org, click here.

Part of the study focused on social-media trends "to see whether locations with higher search activity and tweets about '16 and Pregnant' showed higher levels of searches and tweets about birth control and abortion," Jacque Wilson reports for CNN. "They did. The researchers also looked to see whether high viewership in certain areas corresponded with a bigger drop in teen births. It did."

Melissa Kearney, one of the study authors, told Wilson, "Shows that make it clear how hard it can be . . . affect girls who might not care otherwise. You see she's fighting with her boyfriend on a daily basis. She's gaining weight. Her friends are partying without her." That's why the researchers credit the show for helping lower the teen pregnancy rate, because it highlights "the difficulties of raising a child at such a young age and have concluded from this coincident timing that the show is at least partially responsible for the recent decrease in teen childbearing rates," according to the study.

"Our estimates imply that these shows led to a 5.7 percent reduction in teen births that would have been conceived between June 2009, when the show began, and the end of 2010. This can explain around one-third of the total decline in teen births over that period," the researchers write. "Data limitations preclude us from conducting separate analyses of pregnancies and abortions, but we note that teen abortion rates also fell over this period. This suggests that the show's impact is attributable to a reduction in pregnancy rather than greater use of abortion." To read the study click here.

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