Around 1 in 6 persons in the world is an adolescent: that is 1.2 billion people aged 10 to 19.
Most are healthy, but there is still significant death, illness and diseases among adolescents. Illnesses can hinder their ability to grow and develop to their full potential. Alcohol or tobacco use, lack of physical activity, unprotected sex and/or exposure to violence can jeopardize not only their current health, but often their health for years to come.
Promoting healthy practices during adolescence, and taking steps to better protect young people from health risks are critical for the prevention of health problems in adulthood, and for countries’ future health and social infrastructure.
Depression is the top cause of illness and disability among adolescents and suicide is the third cause of death. Violence, poverty, humiliation and feeling devalued can increase the risk of developing mental health problems.
Building life skills in children and adolescents and providing them with psychosocial support in schools and other community settings can help promote good mental health. Programmes to help strengthen ties between adolescents and their families are also important. If problems arise, they should be detected and managed by competent and caring health workers.
Malnutrition and obesity
Many boys and girls in developing countries enter adolescence undernourished, making them more vulnerable to disease and early death. The number of adolescents who are overweight or obese is increasing in both low- and high-income countries.
Exercise and nutrition
Available survey data indicate that fewer than 1 in every 4 adolescents meets the recommended guidelines for physical activity – 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily.
Anaemia resulting from a lack of iron affects girls and boys, and is the third cause of years lost to death and disability. Iron and folic acid supplements help to promote health before adolescents become parents.