WHO updates fact sheet on ‘Adolescents: health risks and solutions’ (13 May 2016)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has updated its fact sheet health risks of adolescents, and suggested solutions for the same.

Background Information:

Adolescent: Persons between the ages of 10 and 19 years (WHO)

Approximately 1 in every 6 persons in the world is an adolescent- about 1.2 billion adolescents.

Although most adolescents are healthy, a significant number of them experience death, illness and diseases.

Promoting healthy practices during adolescence, and taking steps to better protect young people from health risks are critical for the prevention of health problems in adulthood, and for countries’ future health and social infrastructure.

Major Health Issues Include:

1. Injuries

Road traffic injuries were the leading cause of death among adolescents in 2012, with around 330 adolescents dying every day.

Young drivers need advice on driving safely, while laws that prohibit driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs need to be strictly enforced. Blood alcohol levels need to be set lower (<0.2 mg/100 ml) for teenage drivers. Graduated licences for novice drivers with zero-tolerance for drink-driving are recommended.

Drowning is also a major cause of death among adolescents – 60 000, two-thirds of them boys, drowned in 2012. Teaching children and adolescents to swim is a useful preventive intervention.


2. Early Pregnancy and Childbirth

Globally, about 11% of all births are attributable to girls between the ages of 15 and 19 years, and there are 49 births per 1000 girls in this age group.

Complications linked to pregnancy and childbirth are the second cause of death for 15-19-year-old girls globally.

Better access to contraceptive information and services can reduce the number of girls becoming pregnant and giving birth at too young an age. Laws that specify a minimum age of marriage at 18 and which are enforced can help.

Girls who do become pregnant need access to quality antenatal care. Where permitted by law, adolescents who opt to terminate their pregnancies should have access to safe abortion.


3. Mental Health

Depression is the top cause of illness and disability among adolescents and suicide is the third cause of death.

Violence, poverty, humiliation and feeling devalued can increase the risk of developing mental health problems.

Building life skills in children and adolescents and providing them with psychosocial support in schools and other community settings can help promote good mental health. Programmes to help strengthen ties between adolescents and their families are also important. If problems arise, they should be detected and managed by competent and caring health workers.


4. HIV

More than 2 million adolescents are living with HIV.

In sub-Saharan Africa only 10% of young men and 15% of young women aged 15 to 24 are aware of their HIV status.

Young people need to know how to protect themselves and have the means to do so. This includes being able to obtain condoms to prevent sexual transmission of the virus and clean needles and syringes for those who inject drugs. Better access to HIV testing and counselling, and stronger subsequent links to HIV treatment services for those who test HIV positive, are also needed.


5. Violence

Violence is a leading cause of death. An estimated 180 adolescents die every day as a result of interpersonal violence.

Globally, some 30% of girls aged 15 to 19 experience violence by a partner.

Promoting nurturing relationships between parents and children early in life, providing training in life skills, and reducing access to alcohol and firearms can help to prevent violence. Effective and empathetic care for adolescent survivors of violence and ongoing support can help deal with the physical and the psychological consequences.


6. Tobacco use

Globally, at least 1 in 10 younger adolescents (aged 13 to 15) uses tobacco. 

The vast majority of people using tobacco today began doing so when they were adolescents.

Prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to minors and increasing the price of tobacco products through higher taxes, banning tobacco advertising and ensuring smoke-free environments are crucial. 


7. Exercise and Nutrition

Available survey data indicate that less than 1 in every 4 adolescents meets the recommended guidelines for physical activity – 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily.

Anaemia resulting from a lack of iron affects girls and boys, and is the third cause of years lost to death and disability. Iron and folic acid supplements help to promote health before adolescents become parents, and regular deworming in areas where intestinal helminths such as hookworm are common is recommended.

Developing healthy eating and exercise habits at this age are foundations for good health in adulthood. Reducing the marketing of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, or salt and providing access to healthy foods and opportunities to engage in physical activity are important for all but especially children and adolescents.


8. Alcohol and Drugs

Harmful drinking among adolescents is a major concern in many countries. It reduces self-control and increases risky behaviours, such as unsafe sex or risky driving. It is a primary cause of injuries (including those due to road traffic accidents), violence (especially by a partner) and premature deaths. It also can lead to health problems in later life and affect life expectancy.

Setting a minimum age for buying and consuming alcohol and regulating how alcoholic drinks are targeted at the younger market are among the strategies for reducing harmful drinking.

Drug use among 15 to 19 year olds is also a concern.


9. Others

Diarrhoea, lower respiratory tract infections and meningitis are among the top 10 causes of death for 10 to 19 year olds.

Useful Links:

Link to the updated fact sheet:


Link to “Global standards for quality health-care services for adolescents: a guide to implement a standards-driven approach to improve the quality of health care services for adolescents. Volume 1: Standards and criteria” (2015):


Link to the implementation guide for the global standards (Volume 2):


Link to WHO page hosting the Global standards for quality health-care services for adolescents documents (volumes 3, 4 and policy briefs in Arabic, English and Spanish also available):


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