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Sexually Charged TV Might Raise Risk of Teen Pregnancy

But researchers stress finding doesn't establish a direct link between the two

MONDAY, Nov. 3 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests that teens who spend the most time watching sexually charged television shows are twice as likely to become pregnant or impregnate someone else.

The findings, reported in the November issue of Pediatrics, don't prove that sexy programming leads directly to pregnancy.

Still, parents should pay close attention to what their kids watch, said study author Anita Chandra, a researcher with Rand Corp.

"Not a lot of content on TV talks about the potential negative consequences of sex," Chandra said. "Characters engage in sexual talk or activity, give positive attributes to sex, and there's little discussion about the risks and contraceptive use."

As a result, she said, kids might become interested in sex without realizing the potential pitfalls.

Previous research has linked the watching of sexually charged TV programs to sexual activity in teens, Chandra said. The new study aimed to look for a possible link to teen pregnancy.

About one in every three girls in the United States gets pregnant before age 20, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2006, more than 435,000 infants were born to mothers aged 15 to 19, and more than 80 percent of the births were estimated to have been unintended.

Federal statistics show that while the pregnancy and birth rates have declined by about a third among girls and women in that age group since 1991, birth rates in that group actually grew in 2006.

In the new study, researchers surveyed 2,003 children aged 12 to 17 in 2001, and then followed up with many of them in 2002 and 2004.

Researchers narrowed down the teens surveyed to those who were sexually active. After adjusting the survey results to take into account factors like race and parents' education, they found that those who watched the most sexual programming were still twice as likely to have gotten pregnant or gotten someone else pregnant since the start of the survey, compared to those who watched the least of that kind of programming.

The researchers declined to mention the TV shows that they considered to be sexually charged. Disclosing the shows would divert attention "from our core message that this kind of programming can have an impact on teen health, including pregnancy risk," Chandra stressed.

Overall, 14 percent of those in the survey reported getting pregnant or impregnating someone else after they were first interviewed.

The findings "add to the growing body of evidence that what children see on screen affects their behavior in real life," said Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington who studies kids and television.

"We know that children imitate the behavior they see on screen, and that makes these results much more credible," he said.

Still, it's possible that there's some other reason for the findings, he said, adding that "no one can be positive that there isn't some other explanation."

More information

Learn more about teen pregnancy from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

SOURCES: Anita Chandra, Dr.P.H., researcher, Rand Corp., Arlington, Va.; Dimitri A. Christakis, M.D., M.P.H., professor, pediatrics, University of Washington, Seattle; November 2008, Pediatrics

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