NH's teen pregnancy still lowest nationwide
But those on the front lines of preventing teen pregnancy were surprised - and pleased - to learn that the state also saw one of the nation's most dramatic drops in that rate from 1991 to 2012, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 2012, New Hampshire had a birth rate of 13.8 per 1,000 females aged 15 to 19. That's a 58 percent drop from the rate in 1991, which was 33.1 per 1,000 teens.
Even when researchers "standardized" the data to account for racial and ethnic variations, New Hampshire's standardized rate of 17.2 per 1,000 teens was second only to New Jersey's standardized rate of 17.1.
Researchers in the CDC's Division of Vital Statistics credit both abstinence programs and better access to effective contraception for the decline in teen birth rates nationwide. The trend does not appear to be the result of an increase in abortion, they noted.
Siegel said more teens are using long-acting reversible contraceptives (known as LARCs), including intrauterine devices and hormonal implants that work in the same way as the contraceptive pill.
In New Hampshire, Siegel said, most teen births are among the older population, 18- and 19-year-olds; the birth rate for these teens was 23.6 per 1,000 women. The birth rate for 15-to-17-year-olds here was 6.2, the lowest in the nation.
Still, there are some places in the state where the teen birth rate is closer to the national average. And that's where officials are targeting programs and funding.
Nashua's teen birth rate from 2010 to 2012 was 21.6, with 177 births among a population of 8,202.
In sharp contrast, Sullivan County had a teen birth rate of 25.4 per 1,000 teens from 2010 to 2012. There were 92 births among a population of 3,627 teens.
And "not surprisingly," he said, about 42 percent of teen births in that time period were to girls who had not yet completed high school.
The CDC report estimated a cost to taxpayers, for every child born to a teen mother, of $1,700 per year from birth to age 15. By that calculation, it estimates that $12 billion was saved in 2010 alone, as a result of the 45 percent drop in the teen birth rate from 1991 to 2010.
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, meanwhile, estimates the public cost of teen childbearing in New Hampshire was at least $20 million in 2010 alone. They cite costs associated with public health care, child welfare programs, increased risks of incarceration and lost tax revenue from reduced earnings.
Laflamme said health policy experts face tough decisions about where to allocate limited resources."We always have this choice in New Hampshire where we're choosing between picking somewhere that might have a very high rate but very few teen births ... or a place where maybe the rate is lower but perhaps their population is larger and more concentrated, in a city.""If we put resources in a more densely populated area, then we can affect more lives with those resources," he said. "We have this balancing act."
There's some indication the efforts may be having an effect; preliminary data for 2013 shows a teen birth rate of 27.3 per 1,000 in Manchester, with 87 births out of 3,187 teens. "That looks like a drop," Laflamme said.
The worst response to the good news in the CDC report, she said, would be apathy: "checking it off our list and saying OK, we solved that problem."
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