The World Health Organization (WHO) states that more than 1.2 million adolescents around the world die each year from preventable causes.
The new report shows that in 2015, 855,000 10-to-19-year-olds died in lower income nations throughout African and Southeast Asia. The leading causes of those deaths were traffic injuries, lower respiratory infections, and suicide — but substance abuse, poor nutrition, and mental health disorders contributed as well. In addition, many unhealthy behaviors — such as physical inactivity, poor diet, and risky sexual practices — all start when kids are young.
Researchers believe that almost all of those problems could have been prevented with a mix of education, good health, and strong social support services.
“Adolescents have been entirely absent from national health plans for decades,” said Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director-General for the World Health Organization, in a statement. “Relatively small investments focused on adolescents now will not only result in healthy and empowered adults who thrive and contribute positively to their communities, but it will also result in healthier future generations, yielding enormous returns.”
Not only does the research highlight a growing problem, it also sheds light on the differences in causes of death between age groups and genders. For example, traffic-related deaths affect 10-to 19-year-olds more than any other age group, while girls ages 10-to-14 are at a greater risk of dying from lower respiratory infections resulting from indoor air pollution, UPI reports.
The WHO hopes the study will bring more attention to the growing health needs of adolescents around the world. The Global Accelerated Action for the Health of Adolescents recommends a wide range of changes to help fight the death rates, including comprehensive sexuality education in schools, higher age limits for alcohol consumption, mandated seatbelt laws, and the reduction of indoor air pollution. Social support is important as well.
“Improving the way health systems serve adolescents is just one part of improving their health,” said Anthony Costello, director of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health for the WHO. “Parents, families and communities are extremely important, as they have the greatest potential to positively influence adolescent behavior and health.”