Improving the Health of Youth

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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 behaviours developed during adolescence often continue into adulthood and influence long-term prospects for health and risk for chronic disease. Yet, improving the health and well being of adolescents is a challenging endeavor. Their health issues are complex and can feel overwhelming. Improving adolescent health requires investment in comprehensive efforts at multiple levels, including the individual, their family, schools, health systems, and other community institutions. In order to be effective, actions need to be coordinated across these sectors and involve partnerships with a wide variety of groups, ranging from health providers to families, schools, the faith community, as well as the business sector. While there is a growing body of evidence regarding what works to improve adolescent health, there is no “one size fits all” solution. In fact, there are often competing and conflicting ideas about the best courses of action. In addition, both human and financial resources are limited and fragmented. To further complicate matters, adolescent health is often not a high priority within communities, states, and the nation. Publicly funded agencies and other community-based organizations also face the challenge of accountability. Documenting that financial investments have resulted in significant positive health outcomes will increasingly become the responsibility of programs and funders. These challenges provide a significant dilemma to those who are responsible for leading adolescent health improvement efforts, such as Adolescent Health and Maternal and Child Health (MCH) leaders within the Public Health system. Public health, and most notably the MCH field, has a critical role in assuring the health of adolescents. In order for these leaders to respond effectively to adolescent health challenges, they must act strategically and orchestrate the diversity of people who need to act in concert to support healthy youth. And this strategic action must be based on thoughtful strategic planning.


Claire D. Brindis, Kristin D. Teipel, Philip R. Lee

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