Whitesburg KY

MTV show helps cut teen birth rate

Of every 1,000 babies born in Letcher Co., 61 of them are mothered by teen-agers

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 or gotten into trouble with drugs and alcohol. 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 signifi- cantly higher in rural areas than urban ones.

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.

In 2011, Letcher County’s teen birth rate was 61 for every 1,000 babies born, leaving the county in a tie with Perry County but trailing only Harlan County’s rate of 74 per 1,000 among neighboring counties. Knott County’s teen pregnancy rate in 2011 was 42 per 1,000 babies born. In Pike County, the rate was 58 of every 1,000 babies born.

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.”

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