Adolescence can generally be described as the transitional period of development that occurs between childhood and adulthood. During this period dramatic biological, cognitive, and social changes take place. It is amid these changes that adolescents begin to develop patterns of behavior and make lifestyle choices that will affect both their current and future health.
There are many factors that can have either a positive or negative affect on adolescent health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have identified six critical types of adolescent health behavior that prove to be key determinants of adolescent health outcomes. Those health behaviors are alcohol and drug use, injury and violence (including suicide), tobacco use, sexual behaviors, nutrition, and physical activity. When adolescents establish detrimental patterns of behavior and make poor choices regarding any of these health behaviors, the short- and long-term health affects can be profound.
Fortunately, due to the formative nature of this period of development, there are many opportunities to encourage adolescents to develop positive patterns of behavior that can have life-long effects. Furthermore, it is important to recognize that the behaviors of young people are strongly influenced by a variety of forces. Adolescent behavior can be influenced at the individual, peer, family, school, community, governmental and societal levels. The most effective approaches to adolescent health are comprehensive efforts that engage multiple partners from the various sectors that influence adolescent health behavior.
In the St. Louis region there are a number of organizations that are working to improve adolescent health outcomes through both preventative efforts and treatment approaches. BJC School Outreach and Youth Development conducts programs at local schools that specifically address the six health behaviors mentioned above. Both the Adolescent Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital (run by Washington University) and the SPOT are working to provide adolescent specific health services that are easy to access in environments that are youth friendly. However, as forces continue to collide to create health issues that uniquely effect adolescents, it is clear we will need a stronger, more coordinated effort by all sectors in the St. Louis area to ensure positive health outcomes for our adolescents.