Adolescence: a unique time requiring a tailored response

Video on Health Behaviour of School-aged Children (HBSC)

Most adolescents throughout the WHO European Region benefit from a high standard of health and well-being, but great disparities exist, primarily owing to socioeconomic disadvantages. Attending to adolescent health through school health services, health promoting schools and other targeted initiatives – such as interventions to educate about preventing road traffic accidents or the importance of mental well-being in addition to physical health – has the potential to prevent up to two thirds of deaths in young people.

Vulnerable time

Adolescence – a time of great changes and challenges – is considered one of the three most vulnerable life stages, along with pregnancy and infancy. Adolescents’ requirements are often neglected, as they are often placed together with young children or adults.

Policy-makers often view adolescents as a homogeneous group, discounting gender differences in exposure to and experience with risks. Just as boys and girls experience varying health issues, they should be able to receive tailored health services –appropriate and formulated for their individual needs – as they navigate through the intricacies of this life stage.

In addition to the legal obligation to protect the health and well-being of children, outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, society has a strong moral responsibility to ensure that the adults of tomorrow are given the best possible start today.

Investing in adolescents’ health provides not only immediate benefits (a healthier adolescent population) but also long-term benefits (the establishment of a more productive society in years to come). Considerable evidence supports the notion of a virtuous circle of a healthy adolescence, educational opportunity, positive societal engagement and economic contribution. Importantly, the converse is also true.