A World Health Organization (WHO) fact sheet shows that while most are teens around the globe are healthy, there are still high numbers of premature deaths, illnesses, and injuries stemming from preventable causes.
Nearly 1.2 billion people, or one in six of the world population, are adolescents between 10 and 19 years of age. Since we know that youth represent the future, there is significant incentive for communities and nations to invest in initiatives aimed at enhancing and protecting the health of young people.
A WHO report released in May 2017 indicates that while most adolescents enjoy reasonable health, there are still a concerning number of deaths and injuries from causes such as road accidents, respiratory infections, suicide, diarrhoeal diseases, and drowning. The WHO estimates that approximately 1.2 million adolescents around the world died in 2015 (that equates to more than 3000 every day), and that most deaths were due to preventable causes.
The WHO fact sheet identifies the following concerns as the greatest health challenges facing adolescents:
- Early pregnancy and childbirth – The WHO report identifies complications from pregnancy and childbirth as the leading cause of death for 15 to 19-year-old girls worldwide. Roughly 11% of global births are to girls within this age group, largely in low- and middle-income countries.
- HIV – Although the number of deaths from HIV among the overall population has been decreasing in recent years, deaths among adolescents are rising. The increase is particularly prevalent in the WHO African Region, where young people infected with HIV may not have the means to know of their HIV status, or get appropriate care to manage the condition or prevent its transmission to others. It is estimated that more than 2 million adolescents around the world are living with HIV.
- Other infectious diseases – While substantial progress has been made in reducing incidence of illnesses such as measles, which historically accounted for many deaths among children and adolescents, illnesses such diarrhoea, lower respiratory tract infections, and meningitis are still a concern, and are estimated to be among the leading causes of death for 10 to 19 year olds, particularly in African low and middle-income countries.
- Mental health – Depression and suicide – thought to stem in many cases from violence, poverty or other experiences of feeling devalued – are important causes of illness and disability among adolescents. Among older adolescents aged 15 to 19 years, suicide is the third leading cause of death.
- Violence – The WHO reports that violence accounts for 43% of adolescent male deaths in lower and middle income countries in the Americas, and that 1 in 10 adolescent girls around the world report sexual violence.
- Alcohol and drugs – Excessive drinking and drug use among adolescents is a major concern, both for its effects on long-term health, and for its role in contributing to risky behaviours such as unsafe sex, dangerous driving, and violence.
- Injuries – Traffic accidents and drowning are significant causes of injuries resulting in death among adolescents. Data collected by the WHO estimates that more than 115,000 young people died in traffic accidents in 2015, and 57,000 died by drowning.
- Malnutrition and obesity – The WHO reports that many children in developing countries enter adolescence undernourished, thus increasing vulnerability to disease and early death.
- Exercise and nutrition – Deficiencies in important nutrients such as iron and folic acid, as well as intestinal worms that exacerbate micronutrient depletion, are important health challenges for adolescents in many areas of the world. WHO also notes concerns over marketing of unhealthy foods to teens, as well as data showing that fewer than 1 in every 4 adolescents gets the 60 minutes of daily physical activity recommended by health guidelines.
- Tobacco use – Although adolescent smoking appears to be diminishing in higher income nations, the habit is still a concern worldwide. Overall, it is estimated that at least 1 in 10 teens between the ages of 13 to 15 years uses tobacco, and there are areas of the globe where the numbers are significantly higher.
Written By: Linda Jensen