• “Young people have fallen between those two main pillars of research and health services we would traditionally invest in." (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
The majority of young people aged 10-to-14 in western countries like Australia who face poor health experience mental health disorders, chronic illness and road injuries, according to a new global study.
By
Yasmin Noone

10 May 2016 - 9:57 AM  UPDATED 10 May 2016 - 9:57 AM

Mental health disorders, chronic disease and road injuries are the main reasons why young Australians aged 10-to-14 years old experience poor health, according to a new Lancet Commission study on adolescent health and wellbeing launched today.

The worldwide research involving 30 of the world's experts suggests that adolescent health issues are being broadly ignored, with most of the policy and investment focus falling to other areas, like young children and older people.

The authors add that the leading risk factors for death and illness in young people living around the globe, aged 10–14 years, have not changed much in the past 23 years.

Study co-author and Research Fellow at the Centre for Adolescent Health, at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Dr Peter Azzopardi says that in Australia there’s been a slow reduction in mortality for adolescents but little improvement overall in the health status of young people.

“There’s been chronic poor investment in adolescent health but a lot of focus on children’s health and healthy, active ageing,” says Dr Azzopardi.

“Young people have fallen between those two main pillars of research and health services we would traditionally invest in.

“This is mainly because adolescents are assumed to be healthy but in actual fact, the emerging data shows that they experience many unmet health needs and this has implications for their own health and the health of future generations.”

Dr Azzopardi stresses the importance of paying more attention to the health of youth, in Australia and around the world, given the demographics.

The Commission estimates there are around 1.8 billion young people worldwide, making up over a quarter of the globe’s population and marking the largest generation of adolescents in the world’s history.

"...Adolescents are assumed to be healthy but in actual fact, the emerging data shows that they experience many unmet health needs and this has implications for their own health and the health of future generations.”

It predicts that the adolescent population will increase to 2 billion by 2032. Almost 90 per cent of the world’s youth live in developing countries.

“We need different way of engaging with them to improve their health, a multi-sectorial response, to identify and track progress and define the indicators of good health,” he says.  

“We have advocacy groups tackling mental health or sexual health an what we are trying to do here is say that adolescents have complex health needs and we need a collective look at all of these issues.”

The research shows that high rates of chronic illness, musculoskeletal conditions, chronic respiratory illnesses like asthma, and migraine also influence the health of Australia’s youth.

Adolescence is a critical time of formative growth and brain development second only to infancy. Evidence shows that behaviours, which start in adolescence – like mental health disorders, obesity, smoking, unsafe sex – can carry into adulthood and determine health and wellbeing for a lifetime.

Dr Azzopardi says this is why a holistic approach to adolescent health must also focus on adolescents but also the people influencing and caring for them.

“Adolescents are primed to start making connections outside the family unit, with peer networks and communities, which play important role in their health and wellbeing.

“It is important that we support the health but also the health and wellbeing of families and communities so they can then provide the social scaffolding so that young people can really thrive.”

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, injury is the leading cause of death for young people in Australia, accounting for two-thirds of all deaths of young people in 2004, while transport accidents accounted for 45 per cent.

However, it finds that over 90 per cent of young people rate their health as excellent, very good or good.

Research shows that death rates have halved among young Australians over the last two decades to 2007.

According to beyondblue, one in four young Australians have a mental health condition.

“It is important that we support the health but also the health and wellbeing of families and communities so they can then provide the social scaffolding so that young people can really thrive.”

The international report, which focuses on the reasons why young people across the globe get sick and die, finds that unsafe water, unsafe sanitation, and handwashing remain the top three global causes of death for adolescents.

Injuries, mental health conditions, common infectious diseases, and sexual and reproductive health problems were recognised as the dominant health problems facing young people across developing and wealthy nations.

The leading causes of death for young people aged 10-24 years were also road injuries, self-harm, violence, and tuberculosis.

The authors say the Commission’s findings should be a wake-up call for governments worldwide to invest in the future of the next generation.

“This generation of young people can transform all our futures,” says the Commission’s lead author Professor George Patton, University of Melbourne, Australia.

“There is no more pressing task in global health than ensuring they have the resources to do so. This means it will be crucial to invest urgently in their health, education, livelihoods, and participation.”