Road traffic injuries, HIV/AIDS, and suicide are the top three causes of death for teenagers, while depression is the main reason behind illness and disability, the World Health Organization (WHO) says in its new report on adolescent health.
Titled 'Health for the World’s Adolescents: A second chance in
the second decade,' the report is based on a review of health
policies from 109 countries. The authors not only studied a
variety of published evidence, but also focused on consultations
with children and adolescents from across the globe, ranging from
10 to 19 years of age.
For the first time ever, the UN agency’s report brings together all WHO guidance on the full spectrum of teenage health issues. These include mental, sexual, and reproductive health, as well as violence, HIV, and the use of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs.
The report provides alarming figures. Among one billion adolescents, there were an estimated 1.3 million deaths in 2012 from causes that could have been prevented or treated.
Mental health problems take a big toll, the report says. Unipolar depressive disorders were the cause of nearly 14 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) lost in the age group in 2012. Road injuries came second, with 12 million DALYs lost. The WHO defines a DALY as “one lost year of healthy life.”
The report adds that depression is the cause of numerous illnesses and disabilities which can both harm and kill teenagers. Self-harm caused by mental health issues is the third cause of death among teenagers, having taken the lives of over 120,000 teens in 2012.
Along with road injury and self-harm, adolescents also died from HIV/AIDS (which came second on the list, with nearly 100,000 lives lost), interpersonal violence, drowning, diarrhea, meningitis, and epilepsy. Anemia, self-harm, and anxiety disorders are among key factors which cause teenage disability and illness.
Studies cited in the report show that half of all people who develop mental disorders have their first symptoms by the age of 14.
"If adolescents with mental health problems get the care they need, this can prevent deaths and avoid suffering throughout lives," the WHO said.
The report shows that boys are disproportionately affected, with a rate of death three times higher than girls.
According to the WHO, road safety regulations and "increasing access to reliable and safe public transport can reduce road traffic injuries among adolescents."
Among the organization’s other recommendations for teenage health is physical exercise. New data shows that less than one in every four adolescents gets enough exercise, and in some countries as many as one in three adolescents are obese.