Being, Belonging, Becoming: Minnesota's Adolescent Health Action Plan

Adolescence


Adolescence provides a unique opportunity to invest in the health and well-being of youth. Good health (physical, emotional, social and spiritual) enables young people to make the most of their teenage years while laying a strong foundation for adult life. Lifestyle behaviors developed during adolescence often continue into adulthood and influence long-term prospects for health and risk of chronic disease. Thus, investment in health during adolescence has long-term benefits.

Adolescence is defined by the World Health Organization as the period of life between the ages of 10 to 19 [1]. It is a time characterized by distinct and dramatic developmental changes such as physical changes due to puberty; social changes related to social roles and expectations, and changing roles in relationships; and emotional and intellectual changes in a transition from concrete to abstract thought and reasoning. The rate of these developmental changes is second only to infancy. Experimentation and exploration are hallmarks of adolescence as young people seek to find their “fit” in society. This is a time of redefining and developing relationships, with parents, family and peers. It is important to understand adolescence in the continuum of the lifespan. The experiences of childhood have a significant impact on adolescence, while adolescence lays a foundation for the experiences of adulthood.

The Cost of Not Investing in Health of Adolescents

The cost of not investing in Minnesota youth is staggering in economic, social and humanitarian terms. At the same time, there are significant benefits of investing in the health of Minnesota adolescents. Young people who are well-educated and healthy are more likely to become contributing members of society and contributors to our economic prosperity. It is also more effective to prevent problems before they start, especially in childhood and adolescence. How Minnesota collectively invests in their success and well-being reflects who we are as a society.

Definition of Health

Health is an optimal state of well being in all areas of life – physical, emotional, social and spiritual. By using this broad definition of health, adolescents are healthy when they:

Minnesota youth have defined health in a similar manner:
High school classroom with students working at their desks.

1) engage in healthy behaviors that contribute to a healthy lifestyle;
2) have the capacity to thrive in spite of stressors in life (resiliency);
3) successfully engage in the developmental tasks of adolescence; and
4) experience a sense of wholeness and well-being.

Minnesota youth have defined health in a similar manner:

1. feeling confident in oneself;
2. feeling comfortable with oneself;
3. support of caring family, other adults and peers;
4. being strong in one’s individuality;
5. having personal goals and dreams;
6. enjoyment of being with others and development of close, positive relationships;

Factors That Affect the Health of Adolescents

The health of adolescents is affected by a complex interplay of factors between the young person and their social environment. Their health is shaped by parents and families, peers, neighborhoods and communities, schools, community organizations, faith communities, health care systems, media, employers, and social norms, policies and laws. These factors impact young peoples’ sense of health and well-being by affecting their capacity to withstand life stressors, their ability to transition in developmentally appropriate ways, and their ability to make decisions about health behaviors.

There are a small number of behaviors that negatively affect the health of adolescents. In fact, 70% of adolescent death and illness are caused by six categories of risk behavior, listed in the table below.

BEHAVIORS THAT RESULT IN
UNINTENTIONAL AND INTENTIONAL INJURY
(including violence and suicidal behaviors)
ALCOHOL AND OTHER DRUG ABUSE
TOBACCO USE
SEXUAL BEHAVIORS
that result in unintended pregnancy, HIV infection
and other sexually transmitted infections
UNHEALTHY DIETARY BEHAVIORS
INADEQUATE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

References

1. World Health Organization (1993). The health of young people: A challenge and a promise. Geneva: Author.