Health of the world’s adolescents: a synthesis of internationally comparable data
Adolescence and young adulthood offer opportunities for health gains both through prevention and early clinical intervention. Yet development of health information systems to support this work has been weak and so far lagged behind those for early childhood and adulthood. With falls in the number of deaths in earlier childhood in many countries and a shifting emphasis to non-communicable disease risks, injuries, and mental health, there are good reasons to assess the present sources of health information for young people. We derive indicators from the conceptual framework for the Series on adolescent health and assess the available data to describe them. We selected indicators for their public health importance and their coverage of major health outcomes in young people, health risk behaviours and states, risk and protective factors, social role transitions relevant to health, and health service inputs. We then specify definitions that maximise international comparability. Even with this optimisation of data usage, only seven of the 25 indicators, covered at least 50% of the world’s adolescents. The worst adolescent health profiles are in sub-Saharan Africa, with persisting high mortality from maternal and infectious causes. Risks for non-communicable diseases are spreading rapidly, with the highest rates of tobacco use and overweight, and lowest rates of physical activity, predominantly in adolescents living in low-income and middle-income countries. Even for present global health agendas, such as HIV infection and maternal mortality, data sources are incomplete for adolescents. We propose a series of steps that include better coordination and use of data collected across countries, greater harmonisation of school-based surveys, further development of strategies for socially marginalised youth, targeted research into the validity and use of these health indicators, advocating for adolescent-health information within new global health initiatives, and a recommendation that every country produce a regular report on the health of its adolescents.