Potential health impacts of family planning

by Julie DaVanzo

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Family planning programs have been developed and supported in order to provide people with a means to achieve the number of children they desire and reduce unwanted childbearing, as a contributor to slower population growth and more rapid economic development, and as a means of improving the health of women and children. Health was an important rationale in the early stages of family planning programs in many countries. This continues to be the case in a number of places, especially those where the practice of contraception is controversial from a cultural or religious viewpoint. The real and perceived health risks of different contraceptives are cited by some health professionals in developing countries as reasons to place restrictions on certain contraceptives, as well as by some couples as their reason for being reluctant to regulate their fertility using modern contraceptives. Recently there has been increased interest in the health effects of family planning--both because of an increased interest in health in developing countries and because there have been some questions about the effect of population growth on economic development (National Research Council, 1986). Given the widespread support by developed and developing country governments and international donors for family planning as a means of improving the health of women and children, and the increasing use of the health rationale to organize program activities and argue for more resources, it is important to assess the available scientific evidence presented to support these arguments.

Originally published in: Evaluation of the Impact of Health Interventions, Hoda Rashad, Ronald Gray, and Ties Boerma, eds., Liege, Belgium: International Union for the Scientific Study of Population, pp. 117-135.

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