Ontario doctors say teen pregnancies can lead to premature death


Published April 5, 2024 at 4:05 pm


Teen pregnancy has often been linked to unique hardships, but a new study suggests women who give birth young could face other serious risks.

Last month, a collection of Ontario physicians released a pediatric report titled Teen Pregnancy and Risk of Premature Mortality, which dove into the correlation between teen pregnancies, adverse life experiences and premature death. This massive undertaking, which researched a pool of over 2 million women over 30 years, is causing quite a stir within the Ontario medical community. 

Dr. Joel G. Ray — the primary author of the report — was able to indicate that, while teen pregnancies may impact the likelihood of potential harm for young mothers, the data surrounding the report remains on a rickety foundation at best. 

“There really wasn’t much known about if a teen pregnancy functioned as, more or less, a canary in a coal mine for future risk of death at a relatively young age of adulthood,” Ray told insauga.com. 

The study’s timeline — which ran from April 1991 to March 2021 — surveyed a group of young Ontario-based women who fell under the jurisdiction of the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), with the findings indicating that teen pregnancies function as a marker for potential injury, suicide or death by homicide for young mothers as they reach early adulthood. 

However, according to Ray, the line of causality may not be as clear-cut as is presented, as countless variables can impact a person leading up to the event of teen pregnancy itself — and long after. 

“They may have a turbulent childhood and may not have the self-efficacy, self-education or capacity through their parents or guardians, to learn some of the things that are a part of growing up,” says Ray. “Does this young woman have the capacity to determine with whom and when she wants to be engaged sexually… This is not a criticism of that young woman but does she have the facility to make that determination?” 

Insauga.com contacted several pediatric care centers across Ontario to gain additional opinions on the data presented in the report. At the time of publication, those who did respond denied comment.

Ray indicates that the primary stressors, such as social, economic and mental/physical variables, are all part of the same complex package. Beyond that, despite the report’s framing of teen pregnancies, Ray does not want the data to be used as a broad brush to paint young mothers in a specific way. 

“The worst thing that one could do is say that teen pregnancy causes premature death. It doesn’t. It acts as an indicator, or more so extender, of adverse childhood experiences, at least to some degree,” says Ray. 

According to the data, out of the 2 million women surveyed over the three-decade period, only seven per cent experienced a teen pregnancy, with the median age being roughly 18 years old. Out of those who experienced teen pregnancy, 74 per cent had one child and an additional 26 per cent had two. 

Per every 10,000 individuals, of those who had one teen pregnancy, four would experience a premature death, with the margins increasing to roughly 6 per every 10,000 if they had two. 

As for solutions to help these numbers one day reach zero, Ray believes that as with any multi-causal problem, a multi-faceted approach is the only way to ensure a solution sticks. 

“We are in an apparent state of mental health challenges in youth, these challenges continue to become more and more prevalent in young women, and young men. These include anxiety disorders, issues with depression and clear challenges when it comes to optimizing coping strategies,” says Ray. “Because whether or not a teen pregnancy is even achieved, there is still a serious concern about physical and mental well-being.” 

Ray indicates that while teen pregnancies buckle and bend the health of a young woman, numerous other variables can function as a catalyst for premature death, including opioid use and prolonged self-harm tendencies. 

“To me, looking at the area of premature mortality, for young people, not middle-aged or older adults but young people, needs to become a serious focus. Not only in psychiatric medicine but also in our general societal structure,” says Ray. 

When asked about the ideal timeline for greater social safeguards for youth, Ray replied, 

“I’m not sure we’ve gotten there yet.” 

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