Pregnant teenagers are more likely than their adult counterparts to live in poverty, have poor mental health and experience higher rates of substance use, a new study suggests.
The study, a joint effort by the Lawson Health Research Institute and Brescia University College in London, Ont., pooled results from a sample of more than 25,000 pregnant women and teens from southwestern Ontario, all of whom were patients at London Health Sciences Centre.
About 1,000 of the women and teens in the sample were 19 years old or younger.
The findings were published in the Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology.
Researchers found that from the sample, pregnant teenagers were more likely to live in poor, disadvantaged neighbourhoods across southwestern Ontario.
They were also more likely to have a history of depression prior to pregnancy as well as higher rates of depression during pregnancy.
Among the teenage participants in the study, researchers found 41 per cent smoked cigarettes, 13 per cent used cannabis and seven per cent drank alcohol during their pregnancy. These rates were significantly higher than those found in pregnant women over 19 years of age, according to the study.
The study also found that infants born to teen mothers were more likely to have a low Apgar score, a test given to newborns soon after birth that indicates how well the baby is doing outside of the womb. However, researchers noted that these tests have little correlation with the long-term health of a baby.
Dr. Jamie Seabrook, one of the authors of the study, said the findings suggest teen pregnancy remains an unaddressed social issue, adding that he hopes to see more work done on targeting mental illness among teens as well as with substance use during pregnancy.
“Unfortunately, declining rates of teenage pregnancy mean that the issue has received minimal attention in recent years with respect to social policy,” Seabrook said.
He acknowledged the limited scope of the study, which only included pregnant women and teens from southwestern Ontario.
“We are currently working on a systematic review and meta-analysis of all studies conducted in Canada on the relationship between teenage pregnancies and adverse birth outcomes to determine whether our findings here are consistent with what’s happening across the country,” Seabrook said.