Fifteen to 24 year olds accounted for an estimated 40% of all new HIV infections among adults worldwide in 2009. Every day, 2400 more young people get infected and globally there are more than 5 million young people living with HIV/AIDS. Young people need to know how to protect themselves and have the means to do so. This includes condoms to prevent sexual transmission of the virus and clean needles and syringes for those who inject drugs. Currently, only 36% of young men and 24% of young women have the comprehensive and correct knowledge they need to protect themselves from acquiring the virus. Better access to HIV testing and counselling will inform young people about their status, help them to get the care they need, and avoid further spread of the virus. Where social, cultural and economic conditions increase the vulnerability of young people to HIV infection, an effective HIV prevention strategy should aim to address these factors as well.
Many boys and girls in developing countries enter adolescence undernourished, making them more vulnerable to disease and early death. Conversely, overweight and obesity (another form of malnutrition with serious health consequences and important longer term financial implications for health systems) are increasing among young people in both low- and high-income countries. Adequate nutrition and healthy eating and physical exercise habits at this age are foundations for good health in adulthood. In addition, it is important to prevent nutritional problems by providing advice, food and micronutrient supplementation (e.g. to pregnant adolescents), as well as detecting and managing problems (such as anaemia) promptly and effectively when they occur.
In any given year, about 20% of adolescents will experience a mental health problem, most commonly depression or anxiety. The risk is increased by experiences of violence, humiliation, devaluation and poverty, and suicide is one of the leading causes of death in young people. Building life skills in children and adolescents, and providing them with psychosocial support in schools and other community settings can help promote mental health. If problems arise, they should be detected and managed by competent and caring health workers.
The vast majority of tobacco users worldwide began when they were adolescents. Today an estimated 150 million young people use tobacco. This number is increasing globally, particularly among young women. Half of those users will die prematurely as a result of tobacco use. Banning tobacco advertising, raising the prices of tobacco products and laws prohibiting smoking in public places reduce the number of people who start using tobacco products. They also lower the amount of tobacco consumed by smokers and increase the numbers of young people who quit smoking.
Harmful use of alcohol
Harmful drinking among young people is an increasing concern in many countries. Alcohol use starts at a young age: 14% of adolescent girls and 18% of boys aged 13–15 years in low- and middle-income countries are reported to use alcohol. It reduces self-control and increases risky behaviours. It is a primary cause of injuries (including those due to road traffic accidents), violence (especially domestic violence) and premature deaths. Banning alcohol advertising and regulating access to it are effective strategies to reduce alcohol use by young people. Brief interventions of advice and counselling when alcohol use is detected can contribute to reducing harmful use.
Violence is one of the leading causes of death among young people, particularly males: an estimated 430 young people aged 10 to 24 years die every day through interpersonal violence. For each death, an estimated 20 to 40 youths require hospital treatment for a violence-related injury.
Promoting nurturing relationships between parents and children early in life, providing training in life skills, and reducing access to alcohol and lethal means such as firearms help prevent violence. Effective and empathetic care for adolescent victims of violence and ongoing support can help deal with both the physical and the psychological consequences of violence.
Unintentional injuries are a leading cause of death and disability among young people. Road traffic injuries take the lives of a staggering 700 young people every day. Advising young people on driving safely, strictly enforcing laws that prohibit driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs and increasing access to reliable and safe public transportation can reduce road traffic accidents in young people. If road traffic crashes occur, prompt access to effective trauma care can be life saving.
Source: World Health Organisation