Report: “Youth bulge” draws concern from health professionals

Posted at 8:37 AM, Apr 25, 2012
and last updated 2012-04-25 10:44:22-04

(CNN) — It’s known as the “youth bulge” – a decrease in child mortality rates leading to the largest generation of adolescents in history: 1.2 billion to be exact.

As many of those teens face poverty, natural disasters and wars in addition to overwhelming physical and emotional changes, researchers worry about the lack of available health resources.

“The high income world has been grappling with a rising tide of risks for non-communicable diseases, including the problems of obesity, physical inactivity, alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use,” write the authors of a paper published in The Lancet this week. “That tide is now overwhelming many [lower-to-middle-income countries] who have yet to bring in measures to control the problems of injury, infectious disease and maternal mortality in this young age group.”

Adolescent is defined by researchers as those aged 10 to 19, due to growing trends in the earlier onset of puberty and delayed transition into adult roles.

The paper, titled “Health of the world’s adolescents: a synthesis of internationally comparable data,” is just one of several published in this edition of the journal. Those papers are paired with a report card on adolescent health released by UNICEF.

Both publications offer an intriguing overview of teenagers’ health and the risks they face around the globe:

– The U.S. has the worst adolescent mortality rate out of 27 high income countries. Its rates of violent deaths (gang-related, homicides, etc.) are 10 to 20 times higher than other developed countries.

– Suicide is the leading cause of death among adolescents worldwide, with the highest rates in Belarus, Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation.

– Early childbirth is the leading cause of death for adolescent girls in Africa. Complications related to pregnancy account for 50,000 deaths each year.

– In Eastern and Southern Africa, unsafe sex is one of the greatest risk factors for 10 to 14 year olds.

– One in five adolescents in high income countries are binge drinking at least weekly. The U.S. also has a high rate,despite having a legal drinking age of 21.

– Approximately 2.2. million adolescents are living with HIV.

– More than a third of teenage girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are anemic, or have a deficient number of red blood cells and/or hemoglobin in the blood. Most anemia is due to insufficient iron in a person’s diet. Anemia can increase the risk of hemorrhage or sepsis during childbirth.

– Although obesity is a growing problem in many countries, nearly 50% of girls aged 15 to 19 in India are underweight and more than 25% are underweight in 10 other countries.

– Latin America and the Caribbean have the highest prevalence rates of adolescent tobacco use.
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