Improving the health and well-being of adolescents around the world | New
August 16, 2019 — There are currently approximately 1.8 billion people aged 10 to 19 in the world — the largest generation of adolescents in human history. A recent workshop in Dubai, UAE, by the Nutrition and Global Health Program at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, looked at the risks adolescents face and how to invest. in their health can generate long-term benefits.
The two-day workshop held in July included 30 members and colleagues of the Africa Research, Implementation Science, and Education (ARISE) network, a platform for collaborative education and research activities in Africa. The meeting was supported by the Harvard Medical School Center for Global Health Delivery – Dubai.
ARISE was launched in 2014 by the School’s Africa Health Partnership under the leadership of Wafaie Fawzi, professor of nutrition, epidemiology and global health, and the Harvard affiliate institute. African Academy of Public Health. It currently has 21 member institutions from nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Adolescent health, which is chronically underfunded and under-studied, is one of the main areas of intervention of the network. It requires special attention and tailor-made approaches, said Fawzi.
“Adolescence is a critical time because many of the health problems and behaviors that develop during this time have lifelong consequences,” he said. “Investing in adolescent health globally has triple benefits: for adolescents now and for their lives, and for the health and well-being of their future families. “
During the workshop, participants highlighted ongoing efforts to strengthen adolescent health research, including a recently completed ARISE survey in seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Fawzi said his findings show undernutrition remains a major challenge among adolescents, while the number of overweight people is on the rise. Adolescents in these countries also face health risks from early marriage and pregnancy, depression, violence, substance use and low physical activity, he said.
Network members are also working to standardize survey questions for use across all ARISE sites. The questions could potentially be used by national health and demographic surveillance systems, which monitor key population health indicators.
The workshop included updates on an ongoing UNICEF-funded ARISE network study on the impact of the school environment on nutrition and health among urban school-going adolescents aged 10 to 14 in countries like Ethiopia, Sudan and Tanzania. Despite delays related to political instability in Sudan, team members said the plan is to start data collection in the fall.
Network members see schools as an important entry point for improving adolescent health and well-being. They discussed the creation of nutritional interventions, such as midday meal programs and nutritional supplements, as part of broader approaches to improve health and education. Participants also highlighted successful adolescent health programs, including a youth empowerment intervention in Ethiopia, and ways to apply lessons from these programs to other places around the world.
—Tara Young, Amy Roeder
Photos: himarkley / iStock, courtesy of the ARISE Network