TIME Research

The Teen Birth Rate Is Now At an All-Time Low

TIME.com stock photos Condoms Sex
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Here's what's driving the drop in teen parenting

The teen birth rate has hit a new record low, according to federal data released on Wednesday.

Researchers from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics looked at birth certificates for the year 2014 from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories and found that the teen birth rate is the lowest ever recorded. And, for the first time in seven years, the general fertility rate in the U.S. increased.

Among teens from ages 15 to 19, the birth rate dropped 9% in 2014 to 24.2 births per 1,000 women. Since 1991, the researchers report that the birth rate for this age group has dropped 61%.

MORE: The Best Form of Birth Control

Overall, the number of U.S. births in 2014 increased 1% from the year prior. The number of women in their twenties having babies dropped 2% to a record low, while the number of women in their thirties and forties giving birth rose.

The national teen pregnancy rate has also been on a record decline. Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has shown pregnancy rates among teenagers have been consistently dropping for the last two decades, and there was a 10% drop in a year from 2012 to 2013.

Some data suggests that teens are less sexually active than the past, and those that are having sex are using birth control more often. Some experts speculate that increased access to affordable birth control and better sex education have also played a role.

MORE: The Trouble With Sex Ed in the Internet Age

Teens may also be using better, more effective contraceptives, with an increasing (though still low) number of young people from ages 15 to 19 using long-acting reversible contraceptive methods like the IUD or implant. There’s also been a notable increase in the use of the birth control pill among the age group, as well as usage of more than one method.

Birth control methods like the IUD and implant are significantly more effective than other methods, including the pill and condom. The failure rate for the IUD is as low as 0.2% while the pill is 9% and the condom is 18%. New data released on Tuesday revealed that when women are counseled about all of their options, they are more likely to choose the most effective methods, and that can lead to notable declines in unintended pregnancies.

Some indirect factors could also be influencing the latest birth statistics, suggest researchers at the Guttmacher Institute. Women, for instance, are both getting married and having children later in life.

Though teen births are decreasing, the U.S. still has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world.

TIME Research

Birth-Control Counseling Cuts Pregnancy Nearly in Half

TIME.com stock photos Birth Control Pills
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

It also makes women more likely to choose the most effective contraceptives

Counseling women on the best forms of birth control cuts the rate of unintended pregnancy, according to a new study.

Not all birth control options are equally effective. The intrauterine device (IUD) and implant—referred to as long acting reversible contraception (LARC)—are more effective than the pill or condom. The failure rate for the IUD is as low as 0.2%; for the pill, that rate is 9%. (It’s even higher for a condom, at 18%.) Yet only 7.2% of the population uses LARC.

That number may increase with better counseling, suggests the new study published in the journal The Lancet. Researchers found that when women are counseled about the effectiveness for various forms, they choose LARC more often and have fewer unintended pregnancies.

The researchers looked at 40 Planned Parenthood clinics in the United States and assigned 20 of the clinics to receive training on counseling and insertion for IUDs and implants. The other 20 offered standard care. More than 1,500 women ages 18 to 25 who visited the clinics—and who didn’t want to get pregnant in the next year—were enrolled in the study.

After following them for a year, the researchers found that the women who went to a clinic with LARC training were more likely to report getting counseling compared to the women in the control group. They were also more likely to choose an IUD or implant and were less likely to get pregnant during the study period. The rate of unintended pregnancy for the women in the intervention group was nearly half that of the control group (8 women out of 100 in the intervention group, compared to 15 per 100 women in the control group).

The study authors conclude that counseling may strengthen a woman’s perception of her control over her pregnancy risk, and she therefore may choose more effective contraceptives.

“Unintended pregnancy has been one of those basic health issues that has persisted as a stubborn problem in the U.S., especially among 18-25 year olds,” says study author Cynthia Harper, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology & reproductive sciences at the UCSF Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health. “We’re excited to be able to offer providers an intervention that can help them educate women on the range of FDA-approved contraceptives and to be able to offer the methods with highest efficacy—IUDs and the transdermal implant—along with other more commonly used methods such as the pill.”

Counseling like the kind in the study could take place in places beyond Planned Parenthood clinics, Harper says. “The counseling could be brought to health centers at schools,” she says. “We are also beginning to help develop curriculums for high school students to learn about all of the methods of birth control, including IUDs and implants, so they have the knowledge they need when the time comes for them to make their own birth control choices.”

Read Next: The Best Form of Birth Control

TIME Research

Antibiotics May Be Alternative to Appendectomy Surgery, Study Finds

appendectomy
Getty Images Surgeons removing an appendix in Pretoria, South Africa.

300,000 Americans are affected by acute appendicitis every year

With one in 10 Americans affected by acute appendicitis at some point in their lives—a whopping 300,000 a year—appendectomy surgery has become a routine procedure in the U.S. health care system. But according to a new study, antibiotics may be a strong alternative to surgery in uncomplicated cases of acute appendicitis.

The study, published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, consisted of 530 patients with appendicitis ranging in age from 18 to 60 who were split randomly into two groups: 273 of them underwent standard open appendectomy surgery, while the other 257 received antibiotic treatment.

While 272 of the 273 appendectomy surgeries were successful, 186 of the patients treated with antibiotics did not require surgery at all. Those in the antibiotic group who did ultimately require surgery during a one-year follow-up period (70 patients) showed no signs of complications associated with delaying the procedure.

The study, which was conducted from November 2009 to June 2012 in Finland, raises questions about the routinized use of appendectomy surgery to treat appendicitis—but it is not without its critics, who point out that little is known about the causes of appendicitis.

TIME psychology

10 Ways to Read People Like Sherlock Holmes, Backed By Research

sherlock-holmes-statue
Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

The BBC series Sherlock is currently my favorite show on television.

Sherlock Holmes instantly decodes someone’s life story and personality from a quick look at the person and their belongings.

Of course, the show is fiction. But Sherlock Holmes is a great example of expert behavior.

How much of his skill could we possess in real life with knowledge of the research on what factors predict which personality traits — and which signals are reliable?

Here’s a quick rundown on how you too can develop a piercing eye like the great Sherlock Holmes:

  • Look at photos. Does their smile affect their whole face, or just raise the corners of their mouth? The type of smile can tell you how happy someone is — and how happy they’ll be.
  • Left-handed? Goldmine, especially in the area of trust and creativity.

Join over 190,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Cancer

Researchers Grow a Breast In a Dish

Technically, it’s breast tissue but it develops in a lab culture the same way it would in a teen hitting puberty. And it could help scientists to better understand how the breast develops and what happens when things go awry in breast cancer

For the first time, scientists have taken healthy breast cells from women and isolated the stem cells that can recreate major breast structures—including the milk-feeding ducts and structures that actually produce breast milk. In a new paper in the journal Development, they report that they’ve set up a model for studying how normal breast tissue develops during puberty, and, in coming months, expect to introduce mutations in these cells to study how they might develop cancer.

Starting with breast tissue from women who have had breast reduction surgery, Dr. Christina Scheel, from the Helmholtz Center for Health and Environmental Research, and her colleagues managed to isolate the few stem cells within them that are responsible for generating the new breast tissue that results in the breast’s constant remodeling during puberty, at each menstrual cycle and with each pregnancy.

Only one in about 2,000 of these cells are stem cells, but by mixing up a more nurturing culture solution, they were able to increase the growth of these cells by five-fold, and before their eyes the cells began to form the branchlike structures that serve as the duct network of the breast. With other adjustments, Scheel was also able to promote the growth of the cluster-like cells that produce milk. By labeling the initial stem cell, they saw that all of the complex structures in the breast remarkably arose from a single cell, guided by the right developmental instructions.

“[During puberty,] the normal breast tissue grows [aggressively] into the surrounding connective tissue,” says Scheel. “The cells push forward into the surrounding tissue almost like an invasive tumor but in a very controlled process.”

The fact that the normal breast tissue growth is so intense is leading Scheel to next study whether breast cancer might result from some loss of this very controlled regulation of breast tissue growth, similar to a car without brakes.

She and her team also found that when they grew the breast stem cells on a more rigid platform, the cells grew more aggressively and acted more tumor-like compared to when they were grown on a more flexible, softer framework. That may explain why women with dense breasts, which contain more connective tissue, tend to have higher rates of breast cancer. “This model will allow us to better study normal breast development, and then to understand the first steps that predispose women to developing tumors,” she says.

TIME Research

Members of This Tribe Are Resistant to Disease After Eating Human Brains

It protected some people from forms of dementia

It turns out eating human brains can kill you. But it could also save you from brain disease.

The Fore, a tribe in Papua New Guinea, used to eat the dead at funerals, the Washington Post reports; the men would eat the flesh, and the women and children would eat the brains. But about 2% of the population was dying each year from a disease caused by a molecule in the brain, so in the 1950s the cannibalism was outlawed.

However, a new study published in Nature has isolated what is perhaps a positive side effect of human brain consumption: some Fore have developed a gene that protects them from prions, a form of protein that is related to brain diseases including mad cow and forms of dementia.

The authors of the study say that learning more about this gene could contribute to greater understanding of degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

TIME Research

An Increasing Number of Young Children Are Being Exposed to Marijuana, Study Shows

More than 75% of cases involve children under the age of 3

More children under 6 across the U.S. are being exposed to marijuana, according to a study released on Monday.

The study, conducted by researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics, showed a 147.5% increase in marijuana exposure among children younger than 6 years old between 2006 and 2013. That rate spiked by 610% over the same period in states where marijuana was legalized for medicinal purposes before 2000.

Although the total number of reported cases — 1,969 children between 2000 and 2013 — is not large, the researchers say the rapid escalation in the rate of exposure is a cause for concern. More than 75% of the children who were exposed to marijuana were under 3 years old. They ingested it in the form brownies, cookies and other foods containing the drug.

“Any state considering marijuana legalization needs to include child protection in its laws from the very beginning,” Gary Smith, senior author of the study and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s, told Science Daily.

His co-author Henry Spiller says the high instances of marijuana ingestion are most likely due to the popularity of marijuana-laced food.

“Very young children explore their environments by putting items in their mouths, and foods such as brownies and cookies are attractive,” he said.

[Science Daily]

TIME Research

This Is the Healthiest Month to Be Born In, According to Science

A new study identified 55 diseases associated with birth month

Read an interview with the study’s author.

Your birthday may be more important than you think when it comes your health.

Scientists at Columbia University used an algorithm to identify “significant associations” between the time a year a person is born and 55 diseases, including ADHD, asthma and heart disease. The new study, which was published in the Journal of American Medical Informatics Association, concludes that people born in May have the lowest overall risk for disease, while people born in October have the highest.

Though previous research had explored the connection between disease risk and birth season, this study confirmed 39 associations as well as laid out 16 new ones. Researchers looked at more than 1,600 diseases and 1.7 million patients treated in New York between 1985 and 2013 to identify the months most associated with asthma (October and July babies), ADHD (November babies, matching a Swedish study), and nine kinds of heart disease. They plan to replicate the study in other locations, to better identify the environmental factors contributing to such disparities.

“It’s important not to get overly nervous about these results because even though we found significant associations the overall disease risk is not that great,” said Nicholas Tatonetti, the study’s senior author and an assistant professor at Columbia University Medical Center. “The risk related to birth month is relatively minor when compared to more influential variables like diet and exercise.”

For more on the study, read an interview with Columbia’s Tatonetti here.

TIME Research

Air Pollution Linked to Increased Mortality Even Below EPA Limits: Study

Smoke is released into the sky at an oil refinery in Wilmington
Bret Hartman—Reuters Smoke is released into the sky at a refinery in Wilmington, Calif., on March 24, 2012

You knew air pollution was unhealthy, but you didn't know it was this unhealthy

That death rates among people over 65 are higher in zip codes with more fine-particulate air pollution, as a new study from Harvard School of Public Health suggests, may not come as a surprise. But that harmful effects from that pollution were observed in areas with less than a third of the current Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard may be both startling, and a concern, for many.

The study, which was published online in Environmental Health Perspectives on June 3, used satellite data to measure temperature and particle levels in every zip code in New England, Science Daily reports. This technique allowed researchers to include data even from areas far from pre-existing monitoring stations and to look both at short-term and annual average exposure. That information was then cross-referenced with health data from all New England Medicare patients — some 2.4 million people — between 2003 and 2008.

The results indicate that exposure to air pollution on both the short- and long-term was significantly associated with higher death rates even in zip codes where measurements fell below EPA standards, a trend suggesting that, as with toxins such as lead, there may be no safe level of exposure.

“Most of the country is either meeting the EPA standards now, or is expected to meet them in a few years as new power plant controls kick in,” said senior author Joel Schwartz, professor of environmental epidemiology at Harvard. “This study shows that it is not enough. We need to go after coal plants that still aren’t using scrubbers to clean their emissions, as well as other sources of particles like traffic and wood smoke.”

[Science Daily]

TIME Research

Sexual Violence Against Children Is a Worldwide Problem, Study Says

New surveys show many victims do not receive help

Sexual violence against children is a global problem — and few receive supportive services exist for its victims, according to recent data released from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday.

The new numbers show at least 25% of females and 10% of males report experiencing a form of sexual violence as a child. The results come from Violence Against Children Surveys that were conducted between 2007 and 2013 among men and women ages 18 to 24 in Swaziland, Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Haiti and Cambodia. The findings are published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The surveys asked about childhood sexual violence experienced before individuals turned 18. Sexual violence was defined as unwanted touching, unwanted attempted sex, pressured or coerced sex and forced sex. Girls were more likely to be victims of completed acts of unwanted sex than boys.

Among the seven countries surveyed, Cambodia had the lowest rates of reported sexual violence against girls and boys, at 4.4% and 5.6% respectively. Swaziland had the highest rates of reported sexual violence against girls, at 37.6%. Zimbabwe had the second highest rate for girls at 32.5%. Haiti had the most similar rates among both genders.

The study authors report that high levels of sexual violence experienced in children — and low levels of support afterward — can cause a cascade of lifelong struggles, including unwanted pregnancy, depression and disease. “Experiencing trauma as a child can contribute to biologic changes, such as altered hormonal responses as well as mental illness, such as depression, or other psychological changes like poor social relations and low self-esteem, all of which elevate risk for developing chronic diseases,” the study authors write.

The research has limitations, including the possibility that recall might be imperfect among those surveyed and the fact that some people in the study may not have disclosed their experiences. Still, the researchers note that understanding the prevalence of sexual violence can help in the formation of interventions for various countries.

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