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Feature Teenage Pregnancy

Has Britain solved its teenage pregnancy problem?

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 14 April 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g2561

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  1. Sophie Arie, freelance journalist
  1. 1London, UK

Teenage pregnancy rates have been falling dramatically for several years. Sophie Arie looks at why—and whether the trend will last

In recent years, although many public health problems have been growing, Britain’s notoriously high teenage pregnancy rates have suddenly dropped. The number of 15-17 year olds getting pregnant in England and Wales started to fall significantly in 2008, and by 2010 it had fallen to the lowest level since records began in 1969. The rate continued to fall over the next two years with the result that by 2012 it was 40% down from 47.7/1000 girls in 1998 to 27.9/1000 (fig 1).1

Conception rate among girls aged 15-17, per 1000, 1975 to 20101

The implications in terms of maternal and child health are huge. At least 40% of teenage mothers leave school with no qualifications, and both teenage mothers and their children have poorer health outcomes and an increased chance of living in poverty.2 3

Yet not everyone agrees on what brought about this turnaround or how to bring the rate down further (it is still the highest in western Europe, fig 2).4 Many would say it’s obvious. In 2000, the Labour government launched a 10 year teenage pregnancy strategy, which pumped over £250m (€300m; $415m) into a multipronged approach that aimed to halve the rate of conceptions among under 18 year olds by 2010.

Births to teenagers by country, 2008 and 19804

The strategy included advertising campaigns, providing better information and access to contraceptives, encouraging good sex education, and more discussion of sexual health with general practitioners, youth services, and in specialised clinics. National and regional boards were set up to oversee the progress, and all 150 local authorities appointed local teenage pregnancy coordinators as the contact point for all …

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