Preventing teen pregnancy through persuasive communications: realities, myths, and the hard-fact truths

J Community Health. 1997 Apr;22(2):137-54. doi: 10.1023/a:1025116923109.


Effective campaigns are desperately needed to combat the serious social problem of teen pregnancy. However, public health campaigns are most often noted for failures, rather than successes. One reason for a campaign failing to have the intended effect is lack of theoretical guidance at the formative evaluation stage. The study reported here is a theoretically-based formative evaluation with inner city teens. Six focus groups were conducted to determine knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and recommendations for effective campaigns to deter teen pregnancy. The results indicate that campaign messages need to combat positive attitudes toward pregnancy, negative attitudes toward birth control, the perception of personal invulnerability, and emphasize the negative consequences of sexual intercourse. This study's findings also suggest that campaigns with these messages need to start at an early age in order to effectively prevent teen pregnancy.

PIP: This paper applies a new theoretical model of fear appeal, the Extended Parallel Process Model (EPPM), to the problem of adolescent pregnancy in the US. Because fear can be a barrier to or a motivator of behavioral change, a fear appeal campaign must be designed with theoretical guidance. The EPPM is based on the two-step evaluation of a fear appeal (risk message): 1) appraisal of the individual threat of the hazard and 2) evaluation of the efficacy of any recommended response that calls for danger control (behavior change arising from a belief in successful aversion of the threat) or fear control (defensive avoidant or reactant responses). Health campaign messages are accepted when danger control dominates and rejected when fear control dominates. Thus, if a target audience is engaging in fear control processes, messages should focus on the efficacy of the recommended response. If danger control dominates, messages should focus on the persistence of the threat as well as on the efficacy of the recommended response. The EPPM theoretical framework was used to conduct a formative evaluation of six focus groups composed of 21 inner city mothers aged 14-26. The focus group protocol was shaped by the desire to gain information on contraception/pregnancy knowledge, beliefs/attitudes, and effective sex education strategies. The results of this study provide the basis for development of effective messages to reduce the incidence of adolescent pregnancy by indicating that campaign messages should combat positive attitudes towards pregnancy, negative attitudes towards contraception, and perception of personal invulnerability. Messages should also emphasize the negative consequences of sexual intercourse, and the campaigns should begin at an early age.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Contraception Behavior
  • Defense Mechanisms
  • Fear
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Michigan
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Persuasive Communication*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy in Adolescence / psychology*
  • Psychological Theory
  • Psychology, Adolescent*
  • Risk-Taking
  • Sex Education / methods*