Adolescent health has been neglected for too long – The European Sting – Critical News & Insights on European Politics, Economy, Foreign Affairs, Business & Technology

Infographic explaining the triple dividend of investing in adolescent health. (WHO, 2018)

This article is brought to you through the strategic cooperation of The European bite with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Rhea Saksena, Physician and Global Policy Coordinator, NCD Free & Timothy Kariotis, Coordinator, Australasia, NCD Free

Whether you subscribe to the idea of ​​egotistical millennials often seen in today’s media, or that of a “generation in crisis” in debt, what it means to be a teenager is hard to define. Ultimately, it is a mixture of social, biological, psychological, cultural and personal factors. Even the exact age range of ‘adolescence’ is in question – while the years between childhood and adulthood have traditionally been defined as between 10 and 24, it depends heavily on the country and the country. culture.

But the world’s youth population is the largest in modern history. The forces that shape our lives today will impact us into adulthood, and therefore the society in which we live. Adolescence is the time in our life when we take huge limits: psychologically and biologically but also socially.

And to what extent is the adolescent’s experience determined by external factors? The increasing prevalence of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) is linked to an obesogenic environment: an environment where sodas and fast food are cheaper than healthy food products, and in which urban development policies put public spaces in line instead. than to create physical spaces in which to run and play. Although NCDs are traditionally thought of as diseases of adulthood, smoking, alcohol use, drug use, inactivity and obesity all begin to appear in adolescence, and we see a increasing numbers of young people develop NCDs.

Meanwhile, climate change and air pollution threaten to affect lung health at rates comparable to smoking, and reports show “climate anxiety” is a real problem for many teens alive. in areas threatened by rising sea levels. In fact, half of the mental health problems experienced in adulthood began in adolescence.

All this raises the question: do adolescents have their right to health?

According to the World Health Organization, health is not simply the absence of disease, but rather a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. In a rights-based approach, the right of adolescents to health is defended by prioritizing the maximum available resources to promote this well-being and so that these resources are allocated without discrimination. However, are current resources really prioritized in this way?

As a global community, we have spent the last century trying to address the health of children and more recently we have focused on the health of the elderly. In doing so, we have forgotten to promote health at one of the most essential but also the riskiest times in life: adolescence.

A report recently published in The Lancet described several barriers to adolescents’ access to high-quality health care, categorized by availability, accessibility, acceptability and equity. Laws and policies can prevent certain groups of young people from accessing certain types of health care (for example, women with access to sexual health services), or by allowing health care with a negative approach ( such as homosexual conversion therapy). In addition to these explicit examples of barriers for young people, there are also implicit barriers: health services that treat certain privileged groups more positively compared to other groups, such as homeless youth. The intersectionality between being young and belonging to a traditionally marginalized population puts adolescents at high risk for ill health. Health systems and policies already neglect both young people and marginalized groups. As such, the systematic discrimination faced by a young person from a marginalized group is immense.

How can adolescents lead the way in improving their health and well-being?

What is the scope of the change in the future? The solution may lie in highlighting the voices of adolescents themselves. In Bamenda, capital of a province in northwestern Cameroon, 62% of the population is between 12 and 35 years old, including 13,000 people living with a disability. Despite the efforts of the government, this group faces discrimination and exclusion from participation in social and cultural life in Cameroon. But now a youth-led project aims to change the lives of these young people. The project uses social media campaigns to raise awareness of the existing rights of people with disabilities. It also offers training on running a small business and accessing microfinance, helping to ensure the economic empowerment of young people with disabilities. Young people are taking matters into their own hands.

At the University of Edinburgh, a long-standing student campaign has led the university to divest itself of all of its coal, oil and gas stakes, making it the UK’s largest university endowment fund. United to do it. This multimillion-pound change in investment is due to efforts by young people to advocate for health and environmental concerns to be placed above financial interests.

Finally, it appears that the participation of adolescents can improve health outcomes for both treatment and prevention. Take the example of Isobel, a teenage girl with type 1 diabetes who describes the difficulty of having to take charge of the management of her disease when entering high school. Working alongside her healthcare providers to design an adolescent-centered approach, she describes feeling empowered to take control of her diabetes and stay positive about her health needs. Thus, instead of locking adolescent populations into pre-existing services, health services designed for and by adolescents allow young people to develop a positive relationship with their health.

What are the key messages for integrating an adolescent-centered approach?

Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said that although they “are currently not seen as essential to and poorly served by sustainable development, adolescents are being left behind.” However, steps can be taken to put youth first.

1. Teens are not only naive, inexperienced and unrealistic – and in fact are tired of being stereotyped as such. Teens are energized and activated, ready to take matters into their own hands, and in ways you might not have considered before. A good example is the Mars for our lives movement. After countless high school shootings had no effect on gun laws, this year’s attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, in which 17 students died, led adolescent survivors to organize a movement. These teens used their platform to take a stand against current gun control policies, which arguably remain at the whim of financial lobbies and political parties, and instead urged policymakers to prioritize health. and the well-being of young people in the United States. The youth-led march that followed was one of the largest in history, and the movement is now focused on improving youth participation at the polls.

2. Teens are specific about our goals. We are not only concerned with the ideals of equity and sustainability; we have every interest in seeing them updated. Accordingly, we are ready to ensure that these ideas are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound. We are not in empty rhetoric; we realize we just don’t have the luxury.

3. Teens are ready to form a meaningful partnership with you. Although we have our own ideas and face the world around us, we also know that we have a lot to learn and we are ready to listen, but we also hope that we have a platform to be heard.

4. Youth engagement means full engagement. Being young is hard enough, let alone being young and being part of a marginalized group. If young people are to be involved and engaged, then this participation must be for all young people, not just the most privileged. We all deserve a place at this table and are delighted to take a chair next to you.

As Vittoria Tonin, a shrewd youngster herself, wrote in The Lancet: “Our health systems have to start listening to what we say and what we ask. “

It is a simple solution, but complex to implement: if we want our health systems and policies to promote the health of young people, and of ALL young people, they must be included in the planning, design and production of policies and practices.

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