Emory Report
January 31, 2005
Volume 60, Number 17


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January 31 , 2005
Researchers warn against adult unintended pregnancy costs

BY Tia Webster

Unintended pregnancies have high economic costs, according to health policy researcher Laura Gaydos in the Rollins School of Public Health.

"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," said Gaydos, of Rollins' Women's and Children's Center (WCC).

The WCC has established a team to focus specifically on adult unintended pregnancy. Director Carol Hogue, professor of epidemiology, is working with Gaydos to build a partnership with clinicians and maternal and child health community leaders in Georgia to address the issue locally.

Gaydos' comments responsed to a recent CDC 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, only among women 20 and older.

"We're not sure why this trend is happening; these women may think they're not able to get pregnant, or they may be ambivalent about getting pregnant," Gaydos said. "There are also issues of the high cost of contraceptives and the quality of family-planning counseling that need to be addressed."

A comprehensive 1995 study by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) looked beyond the usual research on teenage pregnancy and focused on adult unintended pregnancies. The findings called upon U.S. researchers, policy makers and programmers to look at the consequences of the rising rate of such pregnancies.

"Approximately 50 percent of all pregnancies in this country are unintended--either mistimed or unwanted altogether," Gaydos said. "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," she continued, "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."

Hogue, who was a member of the IOM committee produced the 1995 report, said there is an important link between preventing adult unwanted pregnancies and reducing the number of preterm infants.

"The United States could reduce the number of preterm infants by 10 percent with the single intervention of eliminating unwanted conceptions," Hogue said. "This is by far the best--and, really, the only--currently known method to reduce the terrible costs associated with prematurity."

The WCC's mission is to promote the health and well-being of women and children through instruction, research and practice. The WCC serves as a focal point in the Rollins school for training and research in maternal and child health and women's health.