Decades of neglect and chronic underinvestment have had serious detrimental effects on the health and wellbeing of adolescents aged 10–24 years, according to a major new Lancet Commission on adolescent health and wellbeing launched in London.
The landmark report, Our future: a Lancet commission on adolescent health and wellbeing, identifies the major challenges confronting adolescents globally and was authored by 30 leading experts from 14 countries including Burnet Institute researchers Dr Elissa Kennedy and Dr Peter Azzopardi.
The Commission highlights priorities for action and calls for key investments across sectors to assure the health of this and future generations, and to tackle the leading causes of poor health in adulthood.
Two-thirds of young people are growing up in countries where preventable and treatable health problems like HIV and AIDS, early pregnancy, unsafe sex, depression, injury, and violence remain a daily threat to their health, wellbeing and life chances.
Evidence shows that behaviours that start in adolescence can determine health and wellbeing for a lifetime. Adolescents today also face new challenges, including rising levels of obesity and mental health disorders, high unemployment, and the risk of radicalisation.
“This generation of young people can transform all our futures,” the Commission’s lead author Professor George Patton from The University of Melbourne said.
“There is no more pressing task in global health than ensuring they have the resources to do so, so it will be crucial to invest urgently in their health, education, livelihoods, and participation.
“The single best investment we can make is guaranteeing access to free, quality secondary education,” Professor Patton said.
The findings of a Global Burden of Disease Study published alongside the Commission included:
- While global efforts to improve the health of children under five have led to major improvements, the leading causes of death for young people aged 10-24 years have changed little from 1990 to 2013, with road injuries, self-harm, violence, and tuberculosis remaining in the top five
- Maternal disorders were the leading cause of death in young women in 2013, responsible for 17 percent of deaths in women aged 20–24 and 11.5 percent in girls aged 15–19 years
- The leading risk factors for death in young people aged 10–14 years have not changed in the past 23 years, with unsafe water, unsafe sanitation, and hand washing remaining in the top three. Diarrhoeal and intestinal diseases are still responsible for 12 percent of deaths in girls aged 10–14 years
- Injuries, mental health conditions, common infectious diseases, and sexual and reproductive health problems are the dominant health problems in young people.
The Commission authors make several recommendations to improve prospects for adolescent health and wellbeing including:
- Expanded access to free secondary education
- Laws that empower and protect adolescents such as guaranteeing 18 years as the minimum age for marriage
- Gathering better evidence for action particularly around mental health and violence
- Collecting and reporting on a minimum set of priority indicators for adolescent health reflecting the burden of disease and risk factors
- Robust, transparent governance and accountability for adolescent health.
For further information, to view commentaries and to download the report, click here.