U.S. teen birth rate at record low

As fewer U.S. high school students are having sex these days and more are using condoms, the teen birth rate decreased significantly.

More young people are finishing high school, too, according to the latest government snapshot on the well-being of American children. It is good news on a number of key wellness indicators, experts said of the report being released Friday.

"The implications for the population are quite positive in terms of their health and their well-being," said Edward Sondik, director of the National Center for Health Statistics. "The lower figure on teens having sex means the risk of sexually transmitted diseases is lower."

In 2005, 47 percent of U.S. high school students - 6.7 million - reported having had sexual intercourse, down from 54 percent in 1991. The rate of those who reported having had sex has remained the same since 2003.

Of those who had sex during a three-month period in 2005, 63 percent - about 9 million - used condoms. That is up from 46 percent in 1991.

The teen birth rate, the report said, was 21 per 1,000 young women ages 15-17 in 2005 - an all-time low. It was down from 39 births per 1,000 teens in 1991.

"This is very good news," said Sondik. "Young teen mothers and their babies are at a greater risk of both immediate and long-term difficulties."

The birth rate in the 15-19 age group was 40 per 1,000 in 2005, also down sharply from the previous decade.

Education campaigns that started years ago are having a significant effect, said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, a Washington-based nonprofit group that focuses on prevention of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

"I think the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the efforts in the '80s and '90s had a lot to do with that," Wagoner said of the improved numbers on teen sex, condoms and adolescent births.

"We need to encourage young teens to delay sexual initiation and we need to make sure they get all the information they need about condoms and birth control," he said.

The report was compiled from statistics and studies at 22 federal agencies, and covered 38 key indicators, including infant mortality, academic achievement rates and the number of children living in poverty.

Other highlights:

-The percentage of children covered by health insurance decreased slightly. In 2005, 89 percent of children had health insurance coverage at some point during the year, down from 90 percent the previous year.

-The percentage of low birthweight infants increased. It was 8.2 percent in 2005, up from 8.1 percent in 2004.

-The percentage of children who had at least one parent working year round and full-time increased to 78.3 percent in 2005, up from 77.6 percent the previous year.

-More young people are completing high school. In 2005, 88 percent of young adults had finished high school - up from 84 percent in 1980.

The report was released by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics - a consortium of federal agencies that includes the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the Census Bureau and the Administration for Children and Families.