Adolescent health

Adolescent health, or youth health, is the range of approaches to preventing, detecting or treating young people’s health and well being [1].

The term adolescent and young people are often used interchangeably, as are the terms Adolescent Health and Youth Health. Young people's health is often complex and requires a comprehensive, biopsychosocial approach.

Key adolescent health risks

Some young people engage in risky behaviours that affect their health and therefore the majority of health problems are psychosocial. Many young people experience multiple problems. These behaviours are established as a young person and go on to become the lifestyles of adults leading to chronic health problems. Social, cultural and environmental factors are all important. Young people have specific health problems and developmental needs that differ from those of children or adults: The causes of ill-health in adolescents are mostly psychosocial rather than biological. Young people often engage in health risk behaviours that reflect the processes of adolescent development: experimentation and exploration, including using drugs and alcohol, sexual behaviour, and other risk taking that affect their physical and mental health. Adolescent health also encompasses children's and young people's sexual and reproductive health (SRH).[2]

The World Health Organisation describes the leading health-related problems in the age group 10 – 19 years to include:[3]

Young people often lack awareness of the harm associated with risk behaviours, and the skills to protect themselves as well as the lack knowledge about how and where to seek help for their health concerns [4]. By intervening at this early life stage, many chronic conditions later in life can be prevented.

Key principles in adolescent health

Evidence-based practices include harm reduction and health promotion to intervene early in the life course and illness trajectory. Youth health is founded on collaborative approaches that address social justice. Youth development approaches include youth empowerment and youth participation. Their aim is to promote youth rights, youth voice and youth engagement.

Access to quality health-care services for adolescents

Studies about young people's access to healthcare have identified major barriers including concerns about confidentiality, practitioners attitudes and communication style, environment, availability of services, cost and the developmental characteristics of young people. Marginalised young people can have greater difficulty accessing health services[5] and need support to navigate the health system.[6]

The World Health Organisation 'Global standards for quality health-care services for adolescents' include: [7]

  • Adolescents’ health literacy
  • Community support
  • Appropriate package of services
  • Providers’ competencies
  • Facility characteristics
  • Equity and non-discrimination
  • Standard Data and quality improvement
  • Adolescents’ participation

Key health services for young people

Youth Health includes adolescent medicine as a speciality, along with other primary and tertiary care services. Health services for young people include mental health services, child protection, drug and alcohol services, sexual health services. General Practitioners work alongside multidisciplinary health practitioners including psychology, social Work and Youth health nursing and school health services. Youth work and youth development services support and engage young people. Web based supports, such as Reach Out!, provide early intervention.

Youth health services ('one-stop-shops' for young people) are specialist services providing multi-disciplinary, primary health care to young people. Focusing on engaging disadvantaged young people, they deliver flexible and unique services to young people in relaxed and comfortable youth-friendly environments. Youth health services work in partnership with other government and non-government services. Youth health services provide a range of entry-points and non-threatening services (such as creative arts, basic services such as showers and laundries, a drop in service, sports and recreational facilities), which encourage young people to connect with the service on their own terms. They also provide informal links to other support services and sectors including education, housing, financial support and legal services, offering support to young people who are dealing with complex issues. Youth health services understand the need to respond immediately to young people’s requests for support and assistance and they share a common operating philosophy, which values social justice, equity, and a holistic view of young people’s health and well being.

Capacity building organisations support the Youth Health sector by providing access to information and resources, conducting research and providing training.

Adolescent Health Organisations

The Egyptian Society for Adolescent Medicine The Arab Coalition for Adolescent Medicine

See also


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