Why Obese Teens May Face Raised Pregnancy Risk

Obese teen girls were less likely to use contraception

Few things are certain in adolescence. For obese teen girls, that uncertainty may extend to safe sex.

A new study found that obese teen girls were less likely to use contraception than non-obese teen girls. Those who did use contraception were also less likely to use it consistently.

“The U.S. teen pregnancy rate is one of the highest in the developed world and we know pregnant adolescents are more likely to have poor birth outcomes,” said lead study author Tammy Chang, MD, a professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan, in a press release. “Our findings suggest that obesity may be an important factor associated with adolescent women’s sexual behavior.”

According to Dr. Chang and team, 1 in 4 women in the US will become pregnant at least once by age 20. The highest rate of unintended pregnancy occurs between the ages of 18 and 19.

According to the authors, obese teens who become pregnant have a higher risk of complications, and their babies are more likely to need intensive care immediately after birth.

"Understanding sexual behaviors by weight status among adolescents is critical because of the risk of dangerous outcomes for moms and babies associated with obesity,” Dr. Chang said.

To examine the link between weight and sexual behaviors, Dr. Chang and team looked at 900 girls ages 18 to 19 who completed more than 26,000 surveys about sex and birth control.

Teens considered obese were less likely to use contraception altogether and less likely to use it consistently, compared to teens not considered obese, Dr. Chang and team found. These researchers found no other significant differences between normal-weight and obese teens in terms of sexual behaviors.

Obese teens may face issues that make them less likely than other groups to use birth control, Dr. Chang and team said. They may be more likely to have low self-esteem than their normal-weight peers, which may make them less likely to prepare for sexual activity or obtain contraceptives.

“By understanding the barriers that put certain groups of teens at higher risk of unintended pregnancies, clinicians and researchers can tailor interventions to empower adolescents to make healthier sexual choices,” Dr. Chang said.

This study was published in June issue of The Journal of Pediatrics.

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development funded this research. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.