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Jul 01, 2015 10:46 AM EDT

Obese Teens Less Likely To Use Contraception

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New research suggests that sexually active obese teens are more likely to get pregnant, Medical Daily reported.

After examining the association between weight and sexual behaviors, researchers from the University of Michigan Health System found that obese adolescents were significantly less likely to use contraception than normal weight peers, putting them at higher risk of unintended pregnancy.

"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," Tammy Chang, lead author of the study, said in a statement.

According to The Business Standard, researchers analyzed 26,545 weekly journal surveys measuring sexual practices and contraceptive use from a longitudinal study of 900 women ages 18-19 in Michigan, ages that are linked to the highest rates of unintended pregnancy.

Obese women who become pregnant have a higher risk for gestational diabetes, hypertensive disorders, blood clots, Cesarean sections, stillbirths and birth-related injuries. Their infants are also more likely to be admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit. One fifth of U.S. adolescents are obese.

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

While differences in contraceptive use are significant between obese girls compared to their normal weight peers in the new study, researchers found no differences in other sexual behaviors, including number of partners, frequency of sex or length of relationships.

In their study, researchers note that obese adolescents have been shown to differ from normal-weight peers in several ways, including having lower self-esteem -- which may hinder preparing for sex, asking clinicians for contraceptives or obtaining contraception from a pharmacy. Lower levels of contraceptive use may also be connected to socioeconomic barriers and limited health literacy that are risk factors for obesity itself.

"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," Chang said.

The findings are detailed in the Journal of Pediatrics.

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