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Adolescent and young adult health

Last updated: October 20, 2021

There are 42 million adolescents in the USA, who are between the ages of 10 to 19. While they are mostly healthy, it is a crucial period for physical, emotional, and mental development. However, despite the importance of this significant time, it is mostly overlooked.

The period of adolescence is between 10 to 19 years, which is a significant time for promoting health and preventing illness. Adolescent health focuses on various domains including social, emotional, cognitive, physical, and intellectual transitions.

Social conditions play an important role to improve adolescent health. These social factors include creating and supporting policies for access to education and employment, universal health coverage, and delayed marriage or childbearing. Environmental changes go a long way to increase youth autonomy, the capacity for decision-making, and human rights.

Major health issues

While physical ailments may be less common in this group than later in life, there are some unique health concerns. The most common health problems that adolescents face are:

The consequences of high-risk behaviors include injuries, pregnancy, legal consequences, infectious diseases, and substance use disorders.

Other leading causes of death and disability in adolescents include injuries caused by motor vehicle accidents and interpersonal violence.

Violence

Violence is the fourth major cause of death in adolescents and young men across the world. Its significance may substantially vary in different regions of the world. It causes nearly one-third of all deaths of young males in the countries with low to middle income in the World Health Organization (WHO) Region of the Americas.

Bullying is the use of force or coercion to abuse or intimidate others. Because of this, bullying is also a type of violence that induces depression, feelings of low self-esteem, and inferiority complex in youth and affects their mental and physical health badly.

According to a student health survey, 37% of females and 42% of males were exposed to bullying in school. Violence in the age of adolescence also increases the chances of injury, mental health problems, HIV, poor school output, dropout, and even suicide.

Mental health

The leading cause of mental illness among adolescents is depression. While mental health is often an underserved area of health care, mental health disorders account for 16% of the world’s burden of disease and injury in adolescents between 10 to 19 years. Surprisingly, 50% of the mental health disorders in the youth start by the age of 14 years, and most of them are untreated. Unfortunately, many of these mental health disorders are even undetected throughout adolescence.

There are many factors that affect the mental health and well-being of adolescents. Poverty, stigma, violence, exclusion, and living in dangerous environments can multiply the risk of mental health problems. Not addressing adolescent mental health conditions extends to adulthood, affecting both mental and physical health and reducing opportunities to lead a successful life as adults.

Mental health can be promoted by building socio-emotional skills in adolescents and providing them with psychosocial help in schools and other community settings. New programs must be introduced to help strengthen the relationship between adolescents and their families. If any environmental problem arises it must be dealt with swiftly and competently by health care workers.

Suicide

Unfortunately, suicide is the third major cause of death for those between fifteen to nineteen years old.The main factors that lead to suicide in adolescents include:

Suicide is devastating to ommunities and can negatively affect peer groups. When the incidence of suicide increases, there is a likelihood of other suicides in a society. It is yet another factor in up to sixty percent of suicides in adolescents and young. Sometimes adolescents, especially girls, harm themselves deliberately which increases the chances of suicide in others.

In order to curb the tendency of suicide, one or more of the following preventive measures can be adopted:

Drug and alcohol usage

Using drugs among adolescents is the main concern in many countries. In a population that already takes risks, drugs reduce self-control and increases risky behaviors. It is a major cause of road traffic accidents and injuries, violence, and deaths at an early age. Drug use may also lead to health complications later in life and negatively affect life expectancy.

More than 25% of all people between 15 to 19 years are current drinkers, including 155 million adolescents. The ratio of heavy episodic drinking among adolescents aged 15 to 19 years was 13.6% in the year 2016, and males were at high risk.

The use of drugs and alcohol in children and adolescents is the main cause of neurocognitive alterations that can lead to social, emotional, behavioral, and academic problems in adult life.

Prevention of drug and alcohol use is an important area of public action. Ideally, work to decrease drug and alcohol usage among adolescence and must include combined strategies, interventions, and activities in family, school, community, and on the individual level.

Most of the people using tobacco today began smoking at a young age. Restricting the sale of tobacco products to children under 18 years and increasing their price through higher taxes, eliminating advertising of tobacco products, and creating smoke-free environments are of great importance. At least 10% of adolescents aged 13-15 years use tobacco worldwide, although this ratio is less in some areas.

Undernutrition

Boys and girls who enter adolescence with poor nourishment, are highly vulnerable to disease and early death. Undernutrition means a lack of the energy and nutrients nedded to maintain good health. Undernutrition is not always the same as malnutrition.

On the other hand, the number of overweight and obese adolescents is on the increase in the countries with all income levels.

In 2016, over 1 in 6 adolescents aging between 10 to 19 years was overweight around the globe. The ratio of prevalence varied across WHO regions.

Adolescence is a critical time for mental, emotional, and physical development. While adolescents experience many life changes, promoting health is of utmost importance to protect the next generation.

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Last reviewed and updated by on Oct 18, 2021

Caitlin Goodwin, DNP, RN, CNM, is a Board Certified Nurse-Midwife, Registered Nurse, and freelance writer. She has over twelve years of experience in nursing practice.

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