Births to teen mothers in California reached a record low in 2008, according to new figures released Monday by the state Department of Public Health.
About 35 babies were born that year for every 1,000 teen females, nearly two fewer babies than the 2007 rate.
"This is absolutely phenomenal," said Norman Constantine, a senior scientist at the Oakland-based Public Health Institute and a clinical professor at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. "It's almost unbelievable at a time when the national rate continues to go up."
The falling state birth rate contrasts with the national rate, which has been on the rise in recent years. Compared to California's 2007 rate of 37.1, the U.S. birth rate for 2007 was 42.5, up from 40.5 in 2005.
"Obviously we're quite proud of these numbers," said Laurie Weaver, chief of the department's Office of Family Planning. "This is the lowest teen birth rate for 15- to 19-year-olds as long as we've been tracking it."
The California birth rate, which has been lower than the overall U.S. rate since 1999, has been slashed by nearly half since 1991, when nearly 71 children were born per 1,000 female teenagers.
The numbers also reveal a steep decline in the Latina teen birth rate. While figures for African Americans, whites, Asians and Pacific Islanders gradually declined between 2006 and 2008, the rate among Latina teens fell from 65 in 2006 to 56.9 in 2008.
Weaver attributed the improvement to state-supported teen-pregnancy prevention efforts, including family planning programs, comprehensive sex education and reproductive health services.
Constantine agreed, pointing to such services as the Family Planning, Access, Care and Treatment Program. About $45 million of the approximately $450-million program is used to serve teens, he said.
Experts also lauded California for never having accepted federal dollars tied to abstinence-only funding. Weaver referred to California's approach as "abstinence plus."
"We believe the only 100% effective way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease is through abstinence," Weaver said. "But we do believe it is important to teach teens that if they choose to be sexually active, that they should be fully informed of contraceptives and have access to services."