- By Region
Young people today face greater risks to their physical and mental health than generations past, new research has found, with adolescents in the developing world rapidly acquiring the unhealthy habits of their wealthier counterparts.
While the state of adolescent well-being varies widely between nations, the data present a general portrait of increasing hazard due to drug and alcohol abuse, unprotected sex, violence and inadequate employment opportunities.
An “alarming” deterioration in health and wellbeing among the world’s 1.8bn adolescents is portrayed in a series of studies released on Wednesday by the medical journal The Lancet.
Youth in middle-income countries are acquiring the bad health habits endemic to their wealthier counterparts, the research suggests. Health conditions once considered unique to high-income countries, such as diabetes, certain cancers and mental disorders, are on the rise in these countries as rates of adolescent tobacco and alcohol use, obesity and physical inactivity have climbed steadily upward.
This trend is contributing to global increases in chronic diseases, most of which are preventable, the authors say. At least 70 per cent of premature adult deaths worldwide are related to behaviours begun in teenage years.
Even though adolescents comprise more than a quarter of the world’s population, the authors maintain that, as a group, they are often excluded from health and social investment programmes. While increased public health funding has been directed toward maternal and child health initiatives, little focus is made on the specific health concerns of adolescents.
The report calls for a significant increase in funding for adolescent health, but emphasises that health programmes alone will not stem the tide of risk.
According to the authors: “The strongest determinants of adolescent health worldwide are structural factors, such as national wealth, income inequality and access to schools.”
Changing patterns of global migration and family composition also contribute to the particular vulnerabilities of the age group, whom the report describes as more deprived of the traditional “social scaffolding” of families and communities.
Commenting on the series, Michael Resnick, a paediatric public health specialist at the University of Minnesota, warned of the consequences of leaving adolescents out of development planning. Dr Resnick said: “Failure to invest in the second decade of life will jeopardise investments in maternal and child health, substantially erode the quality and length of human life, and escalate human suffering, inequity and social instability.”