While youth is idealized in poetry and song as a time of picture-perfect health, young people can be as unhealthy as any other segment of the population. The good news is that there’s still plenty of time for young people to make changes that can help them live longer, healthier lives. With a little work, the changes can become lifetime habits.
Here are five health issues that can cause trouble for teens:
- Obesity. About one in six adolescents is affected by obesity, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While genetics can play a role, behavior drives many cases of obesity. Young people who eat high-calorie foods and don’t get enough exercise run the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, joint problems and heart disease. To achieve and keep a healthy weight, a teen should eat healthy foods, balance screen time with physical activity and get enough sleep. A good way for a teen to get on track is to get a sports physical. A physical can lead your teen’s physician to create a personalized diet and exercise plan for him or her. It could also uncover hidden health problems.
- Smoking. The use of tobacco products by adolescents continues to trouble policymakers, health care providers and parents. Smoking, vaping and chewing tobacco can lead to lifelong health problems because these products are so addictive – and the younger one starts to use tobacco, the harder it is to quit later. Adults who want to discourage teen tobacco use can help by spelling out the costs and health consequences of tobacco use and setting good examples themselves.
- Eating disorders. Eating disorders affect millions of adolescents and young adults, both male and female, in the United States. Anorexia, bulimia and binge eating can damage almost every part of the body, including the brain, liver, kidneys, heart, bones, teeth, skin and hair. If left untreated, eating disorders can lead to ulcers, kidney problems, stunted growth, osteoporosis and even heart failure. The earlier these disorders are diagnosed and treated, the better the chances of recovery. Treatments may include individual, group or family therapy, medical monitoring, nutrition counseling, medications or some combination of them all.
- Drug abuse. Illicit drugs are widely available and many young people have been exposed to them, with about 9.8 percent of U.S. 10th graders using illicit drugs other than marijuana last year, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Most teens don’t think they may become addicted, or take the health risks seriously. Signs of drug use may include a teen failing in school, having memory loss or mood swings, losing interest in activities (or lying about them) and adopting different friends. The National Institute on Drug Abuse offers a useful tool for parents: What to do if your teen or young adult has a problem with drugs. It helps answer such questions as “How do I know if my teen has a substance use disorder?,” “What do I look for in a treatment center for this age group?” and “What if my teen has been in rehab before?” Teens using drugs can benefit by seeing a health care provider, who can screen for drugs and recommend a specialist or course of treatment
- Vehicle accidents. Car accidents are the leading cause of teen death in the United States, according to the CDC. Young people between ages 16 to 19 have a much greater risk of death or injury in a car crash than any other age group. Before driving, teens should learn about the life-saving value of seat belts and the dangers of distracted driving and driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs. And new drivers of any age should take licensing lessons. As the CDC puts it, “driving is a complex skill, one that must be practiced to be learned well.”
Growing up has inherent risks, but teens don’t need to go it alone when they have a caring adult on their sides. When they adopt healthy practices during childhood and adolescence, our kids can lay the foundation for a long, healthy life.
For more information on adolescent health, or to get help, visit our provider directory.