Unintended pregnancies have high economic costs, says Emory University health policy researcher Laura Gaydos, PhD. "The consequences of unplanned pregnancies are serious, including less prenatal care, a higher likelihood for exposure to harmful substances, higher abortion rates, greater risks of low-birth weight babies and infant death," says Dr. Gaydos, of the Women's and Children's Center (WCC) at the Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University.
The WCC has established a team to focus specifically on adult unintended pregnancy. Center Director Carol Hogue, PhD, MPH, professor of epidemiology, Rollins School of Public Health, and Dr. Gaydos are working to build a partnership with clinicians and maternal and child health community leaders in Georgia to address the issue locally.
Dr. Gaydos' comments come in response to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that highlights new data released from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG). The study found that more adult women who are not intending to become pregnant are opting not to use birth control. The percentage of women who were sexually active and not using contraception increased from 5.4 percent in 1995 to 7.4 percent in 2002 (about 1.43 million women). The increase did not occur among teens, but only among women 20 and older. The report is based on 2002 data, with updated data on the use of contraception and family planning services in the United States.
"We're not sure why this trend is happening. These women may think that they're not able to get pregnant or they may be ambivalent about getting pregnant," Dr. Gaydos says. "There also issues of the high cost of contraceptives and the quality of family planning counseling that need to be addressed."
A comprehensive study released in 1995 by the Institutes of Medicine looked beyond the usual research of teenage pregnancy and focused additionally on adult unintended pregnancies. The findings noted that researchers, policy makers, and programmers in the United States needed to look at the consequences of the rising rate of adult unintended pregnancies.
"Approximately fifty percent of all pregnancies in this country are unintended -- either mistimed or unwanted altogether," Dr. Gaydos says. "The majority of these pregnancies are occurring in adult women, not teenagers. That's why research and programming to examine and address this area is critical. No one is suggesting that teen pregnancy isn't important. But as the numbers show, adult unintended pregnancy will continue to grow if we ignore it. Ultimately that means that more women, their babies and their families will suffer." Dr. Hogue, who was a member of the Institute of Medicine committee that produced the 1995 report on unintended pregnancies, notes the important linkage between prevention of unwanted pregnancies among adults and reduction in the number of preterm infants.
"The United States could reduce the number of preterm infants by 10% with the single intervention of eliminating unwanted conceptions," Dr. Hogue says. "This is by far the best -- and really the only currently known -- method to reduce the terrible costs associated with prematurity."
The mission of the Women's and Children's Center (WCC) at the Rollins School of Public Health is to promote the health and well-being of women and children through instruction, research, and practice. The WCC serves as a focal point at the RSPH for training and research in maternal and child health and women's health.