Baby simulators lead to tears

A study by Sally Brinkman and colleagues presents the first randomised controlled trial assessing the effectiveness of infant simulator programmes on teenage pregnancy in Australia.

The Virtual Infant Parenting (VIP) programme uses dolls that mimic the need of a baby in terms of feeding and diaper changing through crying, and are meant to show the challenges of looking after a real baby. The infant simulators were given to 1,567 girls aged 13 to 15 years old in the intervention group (28 schools), while 1,267 girls of the same age in the control group (29 schools) received the standard health education curriculum. Participants were followed until they were age 20 via data linkage to medical records.

The study showed that the infant simulator programme did not reduce the risk of pregnancy in teenage girls. Compared with girls in the control group, a higher proportion of girls in the intervention group recorded at least one birth: 97 (8%) of 1,267 girls in the intervention group vs. 67 (4%) of 1,567 girls in the control group. After adjusting for potential confounders, girls in the intervention group actually had a higher overall pregnancy risk than those in the control group (relative risk 1.36).

Source: Efficacy of Infant Simulator Programmes to Prevent Teenage Pregnancy: A School-based Cluster Randomised Controlled Trial in Western Australia (2016), The Lancet

One thought on “Baby simulators lead to tears”

  1. The Lancet study has enormous flaws:

    1) The authors failed to mention a key contributing factor to this study: In 2004, the Australian government introduced its controversial Maternity Payment Program, or “Baby Bonus”, to increase family size.

    The program paid a lump sum of $3000 (eventually rising to $5000) to families earning below $75,000 following the birth of a child. Not surprisingly, overall teen pregnancy rates for women from 15-19 years – the same age as those being followed by the study – rose significantly after years of decline. Before the Baby Bonus was launched in 2004, birth rates were declining steeply, at an average of 4.5% per year. Following the program’s launch, the birth rate for this age group increased to 13.5% in 2006.

    Why would one assume the girls in their study group, whose schools were poorer on average than the control group that did not utilize infant simulators, wouldn’t be incentivized by such a sum? Teen’s got pregnant during this study because they were paid too.

    2) Magnifying the effect of the above statement, the study groups were not matched. The group who received the infant simulators came from a significantly poorer socioeconomic group than the control group.

    3) Realityworks curriculum spans 14 hours of teaching time and was not used in this study. The curriculum used in the study, was a mere 2 hours and 20 minutes. Realityworks curriculum and the infant simulators are an integrated product. You cannot gut the curriculum the way the authors did and expect efficacy nor draw inferences about our program.

    What distresses us most about this study, apart from the obvious flaws, is that it confuses a vital public health issue. Our RealCare Program, now used by two-thirds of U.S. school districts, has been adopted in educational institutions since 1995. In that same time frame, teen pregnancy has also declined. There are doubtless many reasons for this, and we believe one is the marked change in attitude toward teen pregnancy and parenting found in RealCare Program participants.

    Our customers are highly intelligent educators who’ve been using our product for a decade or more because they see the positive impacts it has on their students every semester.

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