CLEVELAND, Ohio — A new study suggests that a television show targeted to teens may be a great form of birth control.
The study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research discovered a 5.7 percent decrease in teen births in the U.S. within a year and a half of the 2009 debut of MTV’s “16 and Pregnant.”
The results were surprising to some adults and medical professions, because initially it seemed like the teen moms were becoming TV stars and inspiring other girls to do the same.
“To glamorize and to publicize teen pregnancy is very upsetting to most pediatricians,” said Dr. Margaret Stager, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland.
Stager said two researchers looked at communities where there was high viewership of all MTV programming, and they looked at teen birth rates and they found in those areas where there was high MTV viewing there was a decrease in the birth rates.
There was even a spike in Google searches for information about contraception after the episodes would air.
“And the question becomes maybe they saw something that wasn’t so glamorous maybe they saw ‘ewwww’ that could be my life,” said Stager.
But experts said the show is just part of the equation.
In the years leading up to it there were several high-profile events which grabbed national headlines, increasing public and parental awareness.
There were reports of pregnancy pacts made among teen girls in states like Massachusetts and clusters of pregnant girls right here in Ohio.
During the 2004-05 school year over 60 girls at Timken High School in Canton became pregnant.
Current students are too young to remember that, but their parents do.
A 15-year-old, we’ll refer to as “Emily” said, “My mom talks to me about it constantly she says she’s gonna beat me if I ever get pregnant before college.”
Emily said the study shows what teenagers already know: that they’re paying attention to various messages aimed at them, whether it’s at school, on television, online or at home.
And she said education and communication are still a big part of preventing teen pregnancies.
“I want to do right by my mom,” said Emily. “I want to take care of her, I want to go to college get a job, and get that started before I ever start my family.”
Stager said the declining rates are promising, but she wants parents to know there is more work to do.
The United States still has more teen pregnancies than any other industrialized nation.