A great deal of attention is paid to teenage mothers in the United States but teenage fathers are often left out of the conversation. Teenage mothers are at greater risk than older mothers for complications that include pregnancy-related high blood pressure, premature birth, and low birth weight. A recent study suggests the children of teenage fathers may exhibit higher rates of low birth weight as well as greater risk for autism, schizophrenia, and birth defects that include spina bifida.
According to a study recently published by The Royal Society, headquartered in London, sperm cells of teenage fathers undergo DNA mutations at a rate higher than expected. Teenagers’ sperm cells were found to carry approximately six times more genetic mutations than were found in female egg cells.
The study involved DNA analysis of 24,097 parents and their children in Austria, Germany, the Middle East, and West Africa. Blood and saliva samples were taken between 1990 and 2010. Of the children under study, 51.3% were sons and 48.7% daughters.
The research team discovered about 30% more genetic mutations in the sperm of teenage fathers than in that of men 20 years old. A previous study found that, before puberty, male sperm cells undergo an average of 30 divisions (female egg cells divide an average of 22 times). The rate of division increases at about the time a boy turns 15, with approximately 23 divisions occurring each year. This rate of division eventually decreases as the man ages.
The study focused on a specific type of DNA (known as microsatellites) that allowed researchers to track the number of times germ cells (sperm and egg) divided. The findings of this study may lead to further studies of other types of DNA mutation to gauge any effect they may have on teenage parenthood.
Approximately 1.5% of all babies are born with genetic abnormalities. If the 30% increase in DNA mutations in teenage sperm accounts for a 30% increased risk of genetic defects in a young father’s offspring, the number of birth defects in the children of teenage fathers remains quite small when compared to the general population.
Data from the US Department of Health and Human Services indicates 900,000 (9%) of the nation’s young men between 12 and 16 years of age will father at least one child before turning 20. Recent efforts have been made to include more adolescent males in teen pregnancy prevention programs.
In addition to including young men in the discussion of pregnancy prevention, increased efforts are underway to develop emotional and interpersonal skills that will promote safe, successful relationships and to reshape teenage gender stereotypes so that responsible behavior is more desirable than risky behaviors.
- Forster, Peter, et al. “Elevated Germline Mutation Rate in Teenage Fathers. Proceedings B. The Royal Society Publishing. 18 Feb. 2015. Web. 5 Mar. 2015.
- “Engaging Adolescent Males in Prevention.” Office of Adolescent Health. 12 Feb. 2015. Web. 5 Mar. 2015.