Current trends in adolescent health in Europe
Key health challenges facing adolescents in the WHO European Region are:
- substance abuse
- issues in sexual and reproductive health
- unhealthy behaviours linked to diet and physical activity
- mental ill health.
Injuries – primarily related to road traffic accidents, in which alcohol often plays a role – are the leading cause of death among adolescents in the Region. In addition, excessive alcohol consumption has been associated with unprotected sexual activity and an increased likelihood of other substance abuse and various health risks later in life. Few people begin using tobacco after adolescence, which provides a clear opportunity to implement preventive measures targeting adolescents.
Promoting healthy lifestyles among adolescents is essential. Most young people in the Region become sexually active before the age of 19, so they need appropriate education on sexual and reproductive health. Some European countries are experiencing an obesity epidemic that affects 30% of their young population, requiring interventions to achieve sufficient physical activity and healthy diets. The European Region as a whole also faces increasing illness and death from mental problems; 10–20% of adolescents are estimated to suffer from a mental or behavioural disorder. Largely regarded as underestimated, this assessment points to a need for proactive interventions to encourage adolescent mental well-being.
Adolescence is a life stage epitomized by transition and experimentation. The family remains an important influence on adolescents’ health and development, but external entities – peers, the school environment, and societal norms and ideals conveyed through the mass media – begin to take on more importance. Behaviour in adolescence has been shown to be partly responsible for the habits maintained through adult life, as the foundation for health and risk behaviours is laid during this period.