Why It Matters

Adolescence is that period of life that starts with the biological, hormonal, physical changes of puberty and ends at the age at which an individual attains a stable, independent role in society.

During this period between childhood and adulthood, dependence and independence, young people begin to experiment and push limits in order to grow and learn. Adolescents, i.e., teens and young adults ages 12-26, take more risks than either children or adults, and they are particularly prone to taking risks when they’re with their friends. Although generally considered the healthiest period of the lifespan, the fact is that adolescence reflects “the highest rates of risk-taking behavior and potentially life-threatening consequences” according to the National Alliance to Advance Adolescent Health.

The general span of adolescence is when several important public health and social problems either peak or start.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified six types of health-risk behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death and disability among youth. These behaviors include: sexual risk behaviors; unintentional injuries and violence; alcohol or other drug use; tobacco use; unhealthy dietary behaviors; and physical inactivity.

Behavioral problems established in adolescence help determine a young person’s health status and risks for developing chronic diseases in adulthood. Without prevention or intervention, the long term personal and societal effects of negative health outcomes in our youth are staggering. Undetected and untreated STIs can cause infertility, cervical cancer, chronic liver disease, infant blindness and maternal mortality. Young mothers complete 1.9 to 2.2 fewer years of education than women who give birth when they are 30 or older, contributing to lifelong financial struggles. The costs of teen childbearing are formidable. A conservative estimate calculated by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy finds that New Jersey taxpayers alone paid $167 million in taxes in 2004 for public health care, child welfare, incarceration, and lost tax revenue due to decreased earnings and spending.

Community health begins with healthy young people. Teaching young people how to make responsible decisions about their health and relationships is an investment in our community.