Study finds increase in AI/AN teen birth rate
Gale Courey Toensing
WASHINGTON – A new study found the birth rate among American Indian and Alaska Native teen girls increased more than twice the national amount between 2005 and 2007.
The research brief, called “Science Says #39: American Indian/Alaska Native Youth and Teen Pregnancy Prevention,” was written by Katherine Suellentrop, a staff member of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, and former intern Grace Hunter. The report was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and released in August.
AI/AN teens have the third highest teen birth rate in the United States among the five major racial/ethnic groups, the report says.
The paper includes information about demographics, sexual and contraceptive behavior, attitudes about sex and reproductive health, and information about programs for this population.
Highlights of the report include:
• After declining for more than a decade, the teen birth rate among AI/AN teens increased 12 percent between 2005 and 2007 – more than any other racial/ethnic group.
• Little information is available about the sexual and contraceptive behavior of Native teens. The information that is available suggest they are more likely than other teens to have sex before age 16 and less likely to use contraception the last time they had sex.
• There are a limited number of programs available which have been designed specifically for Native teens and none have been rigorously evaluated.
The study found that two percent of teens in the U.S. are of AI/AN descent, including approximately 232,000 teens (or one percent) who report on the census as a single race, and around 57,600 teens who report as AI/AN and one or more other races.
More than half the Native population lives in California, Oklahoma, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, New York, Washington, North Carolina, Michigan, Alaska and Florida.
According to the 2000 Census nearly two-thirds – 64 percent – lived outside of tribal lands or reservations.
“Despite these statistics, federal health care policy towards the AI/AN population continues to focus on the needs of those living on tribal lands in rural areas. For example, funds for urban Indian health make up only about one percent of total Indian Health Services funds,” the report says.
Teen Pregnancy and Birth
Citing data from 2007, the most recent available, the study reports the birth rate for AI/AN teen girls aged 15 to 19 was 59 per 1,000, an increase of 7 percent from 55 per 1,000 a year earlier, and well above the national birth rate of 42.5 per 1,000.
This increase followed a 37 percent decrease from 84.1 per 1,000 births to 52.7 per 1,000 births between 1991 and 2005. The study shows that 21 percent of Native teen girls will become a mother before turning 20, compared to 16 percent of girls nationwide.
The study also found a wide discrepancy in Native teen birth rates from state to state in the 39 states with AI/AN populations large enough to calculate birth rates in 2006. For example, birth rates for teens aged 15 to 19 ranged from 16 per 1,000 in New Jersey to 122 per 1,000 in Nebraska.
The majority of AI/AN teen births were among unmarried moms and were similar to teens overall.
Sexual Activity and Contraceptive Use
Teen pregnancy rates for AI/AN youth are not available from any of the three national pregnancy data sets, the report says.
However, the report does include information from surveys conducted by the BIA, the Add Health survey from 1994 and 2002, and a special survey conducted with teens from the Navajo Nation in 2005. While the data collected was not the most current, these studies yielded, in part, the following information:
• 52 percent of Native teen girls in BIA-funded high schools reported having sex compared to 43 percent of all teen girls in high school.
• 66 percent of Native teen boys in BIA-funded high schools reported having sex compared to the 49 percent of all teen boys in high school.
• Condom use at last sexual experience is lower among teen girls in BIA-funded high schools than among the total student population (45 percent vs. 51 percent).
• Among teen boys, condom use is equally likely among students in BIA-funded high schools and boys in high school more generally (65 percent).
• 8 percent of students in BIA-funded high schools report using birth control pills before the last time they had sex, compared to 18 percent of all high school students.
• More than one-third – 39 percent of high school students in BIA-funded schools report using alcohol or drugs before their last sexual experience compared to approximately one-quarter of high school students overall (26 percent).
• Native youth are more likely than other groups to report having had sex before age 16 (44 percent vs. 34 percent).
• Navajo youth are less likely to have had sex than national measures. Overall, 37 percent of Navajo youth in 2005 report having had sex compared to 47 percent of all teens.
Programs for Native Youth
The study reported that no programs designed specifically for Native youth have ever been “rigorously evaluated.”
It examines a few models that work in a culturally appropriate way to prevent teen pregnancy, including the Life It! Program in Minneapolis and the California Rural Indian Health Board Teen Pregnancy Prevention program.
“The lack of a single rigorously evaluated program designed specifically for Native youth suggests that more resources are needed, both to develop culturally appropriate programs and to evaluate the programs that currently exist. Given the recent 12 percent increase in the teen birth rate among AI/AN teens, it is critical to focus on this important population of teens,” the report says.
A more comprehensive approach may be in the works.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., Senate Finance Committee chairman, expressed concern after reading the report.
“I am concerned by the rising teen pregnancy rate, especially in Montana and particularly in Indian country. We have a responsibility to provide our young people with the best possible chance for success and that’s why I’m working to craft legislation to implement programs proven to lower teen pregnancy rates by teaching our youth the life skills they need to make smart decisions.”