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America’s adolescents: where have we been, where are we going?

  • Charles E Irwin Jr.
    Affiliations
    National Adolescent Health Information Center, Division of Adolescent Medicine, Department of Pediatrics and the Institute for Health Policy Studies, School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, California. USA
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  • Scott J Burg
    Correspondence
    Address correspondence to: Charles E. Irwin, Jr., M.D., Box 0503 LH 245, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94143-0503, USA.
    Affiliations
    National Adolescent Health Information Center, Division of Adolescent Medicine, Department of Pediatrics and the Institute for Health Policy Studies, School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, California. USA
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  • Courtney Uhler Cart
    Affiliations
    National Adolescent Health Information Center, Division of Adolescent Medicine, Department of Pediatrics and the Institute for Health Policy Studies, School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, California. USA
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      Abstract

      Purpose

      To determine historical trends and current status of the health of America’s youth

      Methods

      A thorough literature review was conducted to establish the best sources for adolescent data across a wide range of health-related issues using major national data sources. Data were collected and synthesized to create a comprehensive overview of adolescent health and demographic trends.

      Results and conclusion

      Adolescence is a distinct developmental stage posing unique challenges. Although generally considered a time of health and well-being, traditional health indicators often overlook areas specific to adolescence. Despite encouraging improvements in recent years, this population continues to have high rates of morbidity and mortality owing to violence, injury, and mental health disorders. Also, potentially health-damaging behaviors, such as premature and unprotected sexual behavior and substance use, pose significant threats. Fortunately, adolescence is a time of great behavioral plasticity. Because the vast majority of adolescent health risks are the result of behavioral causes, much of this morbidity and mortality is preventable. The adolescent population is projected to greatly increase over the next 2 decades. However, older age groups are increasing more rapidly, reducing the proportion of adolescents in the overall population. The aging population will likely demand increased access to scarce resources. The public needs to be educated about the need to support programs for youth. If resources are properly allocated, and health professionals trained to deal with adolescents’ unique needs, America’s youth have the potential to benefit greatly from successful implementation of new knowledge, developing healthy, positive, life-long behaviors.

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