Teenage pregnancies dropped to their lowest level ever in England and Wales after the first Covid lockdown, official figures show.
The Office for National Statistics said 2,600 girls under the age of 18 fell pregnant between April and June 2020.
This was down by about a third on the figure in the second quarter of 2019 (3,788) and the lowest since modern records began in 1998.
There were 3,597 teenage pregnancies during the first three months of 2020, for comparison, before the country went into lockdown on March 24.
Teenage conception rates have more than halved since around 2008, believed to be due to better sex education and access to sexual health services.
But the accelerated drop is likely due to a fall in casual sex during lockdown. There were similar falls in sexually transmitted infection rates at the start of the pandemic.
Strict Covid rules imposed last spring put the entire nation under house arrest and made socialising with others indoors illegal.
The Office for National Statistics said 2,600 girls under the age of 18 fell pregnant between April and June 2020. This was down by about a third on the figure in the second quarter of 2019 (3,788) and the lowest since modern records began in 1998. There were 3,597 teenage pregnancies during the first three months of 2020, for comparison, before the country went into lockdown on March 24
Broken down regionally, the North East of England had the highest teen pregnancy rate with 16.2 conceptions per 100,000 people.
It was followed by the North West where the rate was 15.8, Yorkshire and the Humber at 13.2 and the West Midlands (11.5).
At the other end of the scale, London had the lowest rate at 7.5 which was nearly half the proportion at the same time in 2019.
The South West (8.6), East Midlands (8.9) and South East (9) also saw below average rates. At a national level, Wales had a higher rate (12.8) than England (10.8).
Overall, the second quarter figure for 2020 is the lowest on record. It is four times lower than the record high of 11,157 in the fourth quarter of 1998.
One view is that the dramatic fall in the past two decades is down to the Department of Health’s Teenage Pregnancy Strategy, launched in 1999, which led to better sex education and access to sexual health services.
AREAS WITH LOWEST TEEN PREGNANCY RATES AFTER FIRST LOCKDOWN (PER 100,000)
- Windsor and Maidenhead Unitary Authority <1
- Sutton London Borough <1
- Kingston upon Thames London Borough <1
- Westminster London Borough <1
- Oxfordshire County 2.8
- Harrow London Borough 2.8
- Barnet London Borough 2.9
- Swindon Unitary Authority 3.3
- West Berkshire Unitary Authority 3.9
- Camden London Borough 4
AREAS WITH HIGHEST TEEN PREGNANCY RATES AFTER FIRST LOCKDOWN (PER 100,000)
- St. Helens Metropolitan District 35.9
- Blackpool Unitary Authority 35.8
- Tameside Metropolitan District 26
- Halton Unitary Authority 24
- Kingston upon Hull, City of Unitary Authority 23.8
- Isle of Wight Unitary Authority 23.8
- Oldham Metropolitan District 21.7
- Southampton Unitary Authority 21.2
- Stoke-on-Trent Unitary Authority 20.7
- Thurrock Unitary Authority 19.3
Research suggests areas which received more funding under that initiative have undergone the biggest reductions in under-18 conceptions.
But the fall in teen pregnancies, which are often unplanned, last spring is believed to be a direct effect of the Covid lockdown.
Pubs, bars, restaurants, cinemas and other amenities were shut during the first phase of restrictions and people were only allowed to leave home once per day for exercise.
And Covid legislation meant anyone having sex with someone they did not live with could be prosecuted.
Estimates by the London School of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine suggest that people reduced their social contacts by about 75 per cent last spring.
Lung and heart disease diagnoses fell by up to HALF during pandemic
Diagnoses of chronic illnesses in England fell by up to half last year in a trend that was partly fuelled by fewer GP appointments during the pandemic, stark official figures revealed today.
Incidence of chronic pulmonary disease (COPD) — a group of lung diseases that can cause breathing difficulties — was down 51 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019.
The number of patients diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rate which raises the risk of strokes and heart attacks, fell by 26 per cent, followed by heart failure and diabetes, which both dropped by a fifth. Coronary heart disease cases were also down 17 per cent, the report found, and strokes fell by 16 per cent.
The Department of Health and Office for National Statistics report suggests tens of thousands fewer people got a delayed diagnosis, risking their condition worsening. It claimed ‘reduced general practice activity’ was likely partly behind the trend.
NHS figures suggest around 23million fewer face-to-face GP consultations were carried out in the first wave of the Covid pandemic alone, as NHS services and practices were encouraged to move to virtual settings and Brits were more reluctant to come forward due to virus fears.
It is a criminal offence for anyone who is 16 or older to have any kind of sexual contact with someone aged 15 and younger. It is also a criminal offence for both underaged girls and boys aged to have sex with anyone else under 16.
The ONS figures show St Helens in Merseyside had the highest teen conception rates of any authority in England at 35.9, more than three times the national average.
It was closely followed by Blackpool (35.8). In Tameside, Greater Manchester, the rate was 26 and Halton in Cheshire recorded a rate of 24.
Rates above 20 were seen in Kingston upon Hull (23.8), the Isle of Wight (23.8), Oldham (21.7), Southampton (21.2) and Stoke-on-Trent (20.7).
By comparison, four authorities had such low numbers that their rates were zero — Windsor and Maidenhead, and the London boroughs of Sutton, Kingston and Westminster.
The figures cover pregnancies that result in a live birth, stillbirth or an abortion.
They do not include miscarriages or pregnancies terminated through illegal abortions.
The date of conception is estimated using the recorded gestation for abortions and stillbirths, and assuming 38 weeks gestation for live births.
A spokesperson for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas) said: ‘Many teenage mothers provide a loving, caring home for their child, and every parent should be supported.
‘We must make sure that when discussing the decline in teenage pregnancies, we do not stigmatise those who choose to have a baby at this stage in their lives.
‘The continued decline in unplanned and unwanted teenage pregnancy is reflective of a trend we have seen over the last decade related to changing teen lifestyles and social interactions.
‘This is especially unsurprising when considering the impact of the pandemic and related restrictions.
‘We also know that older women have struggled to access the contraception they need during lockdown, and as life returns to normal, contraception services must too.’
Separate figures show that sexually transmitted infection rates dropped by 32 per cent in England last year as a result of the pandemic.
Some 317,901 people tested positive for an STI in 2020, down from 467,096 in 2019, according to Public Health England.
Rates of chlamydia — the country’s most common STI — dropped by 29 per cent, while those with gonorrhoea dropped by 20 per cent.
The biggest decrease was in cases of genital warts, which fell 46 per cent, and herpes which was down 40 per cent.
PHE said Covid rules led to ‘changes in behaviour’ which influenced the decline, such as having less casual sex, as well as reduced testing and diagnoses.
Now that restrictions have eased across the country, the agency warned people to be careful not to ‘swap social distancing for an STI’.
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