Two-thirds of young people aged 10 to 24 years are growing up in nations where preventable, treatable health issues, including HIV/AIDS, early pregnancy, unsafe sex, depression, injury and violence, represent a daily threat, according to a newly released Lancet Commission on adolescent health and wellbeing.
The commission, launched in London, was led by the University of Melbourne in Australia, University College of London, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. It found that decades of neglect and chronic underinvestment have had serious negative effects on the health of adolescents around the world.
“This generation of young people can transform all our futures,” said George Patton, MD, a professor at the University of Melbourne, said in a press release. “There is no more pressing task in global health than ensuring they have the resources to do so. This means it will be crucial to invest urgently in their health, education, livelihoods and participation.”
The commission found that most health issues and lifestyle risk factors for disease later in life, such as mental health disorders, obesity, smoking and unsafe sex, emerge during the adolescent years. However, because adolescence is generally thought to be the healthiest time of life, young people have attracted little interest and few health resources, the commission said. In addition, young people aged 10 to 24 years have the lowest rate of health care coverage of any age group.
According to the commission, a major new investment in the health and wellbeing of the world’s 1.8 billion adolescents is required, and could yield a “triple dividend of benefits,” for today, into their adulthood and for the next generation of children.
In addition, while global mortality among those aged 10 to 24 years has fallen since 1990, the rate of that decline has been slower than that of younger children, according to research led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, in Seattle. The findings of the project, called Global Burden of Disease (GBD), have been published alongside the commission’s report.
According to the IHME analysis, HIV/AIDS, road traffic accidents and drowning collectively caused a quarter of deaths in adolescents aged 10 to 14 years globally in 2013. Diarrheal and intestinal diseases, lower respiratory infections and malaria accounted for a further 21% of deaths among that age group.
The GBD project also found that depression affects more than 10% of adolescents aged 10 to 24 years. Meanwhile, the fastest growing risk factor for ill health among that age group over the past 23 years is unsafe sex. Alcohol remains the world’s leading risk factor for ill health in young adults aged 20 to 24 years.
“Our data show a clear need to renewed efforts to improve health and reduce the burden of disease in young people,” Ali Mokdad, PhD, professor of global health at the IHME and lead author of the GBD, said in a press release. “Continued inaction will have serious ramifications for the health of this generation and the next.”
Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.