Global study

A detailed global study of the health and well being of the world’s 1.8 billion adolescents; and young adults reveals a growing inequality; and greater health challenges than those faced 25 years ago. Of the 1.8 billion adolescents aged 10-24; an additional 250 million worldwide are living in countries; where they face a triple burden of infectious disease, non-communicable diseases and injuries; compared with 1990. The global study provides the first comprehensive and integrated snapshot of young people; who make up a third of the world’s population. The findings are published in the Lancet.

Adolescent needs and demographic change

“The study demonstrates both success and failure in adolescent health. Health, education, and employment systems have not been able to keep up; with shifting adolescent needs and demographic change;” said John Santelli, MD, MPH, professor of Population and Family Health at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, and one of the U.S. authors of the report.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) accounted for more than half of the disease burden in adolescents; and were the leading cause of poor health for young adults in every setting. The number of adolescents who are overweight or obese more than doubled between 1990 and 2016. Almost one in five of the world’s adolescents were overweight or obese; a 120% increase from the 147.3 million in 1990. In the U.S., poor health caused by injury was higher than in similar high-income countries.

“While there have been great improvements in adolescent health in some countries; the greatest population growth has been in countries where adolescents experience the largest disease burden,” said lead author Peter Azzopardi, Burnet Institute co-head of Adolescent Health who also holds positions with of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and the University of Melbourne.”Investments in adolescent health have also not kept pace with needs.”

High rates of adolescent livebirths

In terms of health risks, the global number of adolescent daily smokers decreased by around 20 percent, from 174 million in 1990 to 136 million in 2016, however, the proportion of smokers in multi-burden countries increased substantially. Prevalence among boys and young men in the U.S. was 9 percent in 2016, and slightly lower for girls (7 percent) compared to the overall agerage of 10 percent. There was a small annual increase of just over 1 percent among girls and women in multi-burden countries.