- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 23, 2007

Women who were teens when they gave birth for the first time appear to be at higher risk of dying in their 50s or 60s than older first-time mothers, a study has found.

The findings reflect risk “at a population level” and don’t mean any specific woman who gave birth as a teen is going to die prematurely, cautioned University of Florida sociology professor John C. Henretta, whose study appears in the September issue of the American Sociological Association’s Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

But data suggest that “women who have early births … and survive to age 50 have a higher death rate” than women who give birth later in life, Mr. Henretta said. Women who were teen mothers also had higher rates of heart disease, lung disease and cancer when they reach midlife, he said.

“Teen pregnancy and early childbearing have long been associated with adverse consequences for teen mothers and, in particular, their children,” said Bill Albert, spokesman for the National Campaign, which seeks to prevent teen pregnancy and unwanted pregnancy. “This study suggests that the consequences of too-early pregnancy and childbearing may be more severe for the mother than previously thought.”

Teen pregnancy and teen birthrates have fallen steadily since the early 1990s. However, in 2005, there were still more than 420,000 births to teens, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. More than 80 percent of these births were to unwed mothers, Child Trends Inc. noted on its online databank.

Teen mothers are at risk for such medical problems as low weight gain, anemia, pregnancy-induced hypertension and cephalopelvic disproportion, a condition in which the baby is too large to fit through the mother’s pelvis, the National Campaign said. Teen mothers are also less likely to seek prenatal care, and later in life are at greater risk for obesity and hypertension than older mothers.

Mr. Henretta reviewed data from the National Institute on Aging’s Health and Retirement Study (HRS), which surveys 22,000 Americans older than 50 every two years.

He focused on 4,335 women born between 1931 and 1941 because they entered adolescence at a time when marrying and having babies before age 20 was common. The women were interviewed for the HRS between 1992 and 2002; about 8 percent had died by 2002.

Mr. Henretta found that women who gave birth as teens had a 1.42 times higher risk of dying after age 50 than women whose first birth was later in life. Young mothers also reported elevated rates of serious disease, such as cancer.

Being unmarried at first birth was also associated with earlier mortality, but that could be due to poor socioeconomic status at midlife, Mr. Henretta concluded.

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