WEDNESDAY, Oct. 31, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Preteen girls' reading skills can strongly predict whether they'll get pregnant when they're teens, a new study suggests.
University of Pennsylvania researchers looked at the reading skills of more than 12,000 girls when they were in grade 7 (average age 11.9 years) in Philadelphia public schools and then checked to see how many of them gave birth when they were teens.
Girls with below-average reading skills in grade 7 were 2.5 times more likely to have a child during their teenage years than those with average reading skills, the investigators found.
Among preteen girls with below-average reading skills, 21 percent had one baby and 3 percent had two or more babies during their teens, compared with 12 percent and 1 percent, respectively, of girls with average reading skills, and 5 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively, of those with above-average reading skills.
The researchers also found that Hispanic and black girls were more likely to have below-average reading skills, and that the link between poor reading skills and teen pregnancy was stronger in these groups of girls.
The study was scheduled for presentation Oct. 31 at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association and will be published in the February 2013 issue of the journal Contraception.
Poor reading skills in early grades are difficult to overcome and may increase the risk that children will later drop out of school, the researchers noted.
"It is quite possible that adolescent girls who experience a daily sense of rejection in the classroom might feel as though they have little chance of achievement later on in life," study author Rosemary Frasso said in a news release from the American Public Health Association. "Our findings underscore the role of literacy as its own social risk factor throughout the life course."
Health care providers working with preteen girls should consider literacy when providing the girls with birth control and other reproductive health services, the researchers concluded.
Research presented at meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about teen pregnancy.