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Columbia Receives CDC Funding for Male-focused Teen Pregnancy Project

In the national conversation around teen pregnancy, one very important group is often completely left out: young men. Very slowly that’s been changing. The Mailman School of Public Health just received the CDC’s first-ever grant for a teen pregnancy prevention program focused on males. The $3.6 million five-year project is led by Dr. David Bell, associate professor of population and family health.

[Dr. David Bell]

Over the years, many tactics and programs have been developed to reduce teen pregnancy rates — with the vast majority designed for young women. “We have so very few, if any, evidence-based models on working with guys to reduce teen pregnancy,” says Dr. Bell. With teen pregnancy rates already falling sharply, the CDC is now prioritizing the half of the population that’s been ignored.

At its center, the project will focus on a tried-and-true method of creating behavioral change: motivational interviewing. A type of counseling that revolves around the patient, motivational interviewing helps people define what they want to change, what that change looks like, and how they can create that change. Working with motivational coaches and aided by a smartphone app, Bell and his colleagues are working to make the program responsive and supportive of the decisions of study participants.

Dr. Melanie Gold, professor of pediatrics and population and family health at Columbia University Medical Center, designed a teen pregnancy prevention program for young women that has already proven effective at reducing rates of unprotected sex. Together, with the CDC support, Drs. Bell and Gold are now tailoring that project to work for young men.

This project fits squarely into the focus of Dr. Bell’s career: involving young men in sexual and reproductive health. “After the age of 15, most guys drop out of going to a doctor, and so that’s where my interest piqued,” says Dr. Bell. “I wanted to explore what we can do about that, and how can we engage young men in our healthcare system.” His previous studies have explored male intimacy in relationships and male access to emergency contraception such as Plan B.

Bell also sees its broader potential to cultivate greater inclusion of young men in programs that encourage behavioral change. “We have so few things that work with young men — particularly young men of color — in a positive way,” says Dr. Bell. “This project is on the forefront of working with this population in that positive way and I think we can foster more like it for our nation and culture overall.”