Study shows pregnant teens more prone to poverty, substance use

File photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo / BalazsT

Researchers in London have determined that women who become pregnant as teenagers have higher rates of substance use, have poorer mental health, and are more likely to live in poverty.

A study by researchers at Lawson Health Research Institute and Brescia University College looked at data from teen patients at the London Health Sciences Centre and compared it with that of women who became pregnant during adulthood. In all, their sample size consisted of 25,363 pregnant women, 1080 of whom were under the age of 20. The researchers found that pregnant teens were more likely to live in poor neighbourhoods in Southwestern Ontario, were more likely to have a history of depression, and had higher rates of depression during their pregnancy.

The data also showed that 41 per cent of pregnant teens smoked cigarettes, 13 per cent were cannabis users, and seven per cent used alcohol during their pregnancy. All of the figures are higher than those for pregnant adult women.

“Although teenage pregnancy has been declining in Canada over the past few decades, this does not mean that we have solved this social issue. The majority, 70 per cent, of teenage pregnancies in this country are unintended,” said Dr. Jamie A. Seabrook, a scientist at Children’s Health Research Institute and associate professor at Brescia University College. “Unfortunately, declining rates of teenage pregnancy means that the issue has received minimal attention in recent years with respect to social policy.”

If there was one silver lining in the study, it was that teenage pregnancy was not associated with a higher risk of premature birth or low birth weight when compared with pregnancies involving women between the ages of 20 and 34 years. However, the infants of teen mothers were found to have a higher risk of low Apgar scores. An Apgar score, which is given to newborns shortly after their birth, shows how well the baby is doing outside the womb. While babies with a low Apgar score are more likely to need help with their breathing, the researchers say Apgar scores “have little correlation with the long-term health of the baby.”

Dr. Seabrook said that, while this study was limited to residents of Southwestern Ontario, they are working on a review of all studies in Canada on the connection between teenage pregnancies and adverse birth outcomes to see if their findings are similar.

“We need to target teenage mental illness, as well as their high substance use during pregnancy, to minimize the impact on their overall health and wellbeing,” he said.

The full study can be found here.