Robot baby program not so effective
WA schoolgirls given “virtual babies” in a bid to reduce teen pregnancy are more likely to get pregnant, a study has found.
The surprise findings from the Telethon Kids Institute research, the biggest of its kind in the world, show the popular health education program has “unexpected consequences”.
The program uses lifelike dolls that cry and have to be fed and changed night and day.
It is designed to show teenage girls the reality of being a parent.
Researchers tracked almost 3000 schoolgirls aged 13-15, with half given robot babies to care for over several days.
The results, published in The Lancet, found 17 per cent of girls given the dolls became pregnant by the age of 20, compared with 11 per cent of those who had standard health education.
More of the girls who took part in the simulation program and became pregnant kept their babies.
Lead investigator Sally Brinkman said the results showed the importance of scientifically evaluating education programs for their effectiveness.
“The virtual infant parenting program is used across Australia and the world because it is thought to reduce the rates of teen pregnancy,” she said.
“This is the largest study of its kind and highlights that even the most well-intentioned programs can have unexpected consequences.”
Robot babies not only failed to reduce teen pregnancy, they could in fact have increased the risk.
“Australia has the sixth highest teen pregnancy rate out of 21 OECD countries and this study will help policy-makers better tackle the issue,” Dr Brinkman said.
Healthway and Lotterywest funded the study.
Researchers said some studies had suggested girls who found it difficult to care for the virtual babies tended to believe caring for their own baby would be easier.
Other girls at risk of becoming teenage mothers might enjoy the attention they received with a robot baby, reinforcing their desire to have a baby, it was suggested.