COLUMBUS -- The birth rate among American teenage girls has dropped to a historic low, according to government statistics released June 30.
Births to American teens ages 15 to 19 fell 9 percent between 2015 and 2016, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The birth rate in 2016 -- 20.3 babies per 1,000 females -- marks a decrease of 51 percent from 2007 and 67 percent from 1991.
"That teen births declined 9 percent in one year is amazing," said Dr. Elise Berlan, who runs the Young Women's Contraceptive Services Program at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, better known as BC4Teens. But the United States still has the highest rate of teen births among industrialized countries, she said.
Overall, the birth rate among all American women of childbearing age, which is defined as 15 to 44, is at a record low, according to the report. About 3.9 million babies were born in 2016, and the general fertility rate was 62 births per 1,000 women, a decrease of 1 percent from 2015.
For context, the agency reports that the highest recorded birth rate in the U.S. was in 1957, at 122.7 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44.
A drop in the teen birth rate is something to get excited about, Berlan said, because 80 percent of teenage pregnancies are unintended. Teen mothers also are at higher risk of giving birth prematurely, a risk factor for infant mortality. That's a health crisis that Ohio and Columbus have been working to resolve in recent years.
"The CDC has called (teen pregnancy) a 'winnable battle,'" Berlan said. She advocates for more use of contraceptives, especially long-acting reversible methods such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants.
Sex education in schools can make a difference, too, she said, but the quality locally is "hit or miss." Many doctors' groups, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics, support the teaching of comprehensive sex education in schools to cut the rate of teen pregnancy. That includes discussion of both abstinence and contraception.
"If the schools don't teach it, the kids are learning from other kids," she said. "And the parents are often uncomfortable or don't feel qualified to teach their kids about this."
The government's birth rate report goes hand in hand with another survey released a week ago by the same agency, about sexual activity and contraceptive use among teens from 2011-2015.
It found that 42 percent of U.S. teen girls and 44 percent of boys report having sexual intercourse at least once. In 1988, 51 percent of teen girls and 60 percent of boys reported having sex.
Among those who report having sex within three months of the survey, 90 percent of girls and 95 percent of boys said they used at least one method of contraception, compared with 1988, when 80 percent of girls and 84 percent of boys reported using contraception.
Among respondents, 97.4 percent of them report having used a condom in the past, 59.7 percent used withdrawal and 55.5 percent took birth-control pills. Only 5.8 percent of girls used an IUD or implant.
The percentage of teens using emergency contraception, or the "morning-after pill," climbed to 23 percent, from 8 percent in 2002.
Among those who are waiting to have sex, the reason given most often by both girls (35.3 percent) and boys (27.9 percent) is that it is against their religion or morals. The second most frequent response was "haven't found the right person yet," 21.9 percent of girls and 28.5 percent of boys; and third was worries about pregnancy (19.3 percent of girls and 21.2 percent of boys).