Adolescent health and well-being
Ensuring their development and growth, with implications that reverberate across generations.
The world is now home to the largest cohort of adolescents in history – 1.2 billion people between the ages of 10 and 19. How they develop and grow has implications that reverberate across generations. When adolescents, including the most disadvantaged, are supported by caring families and adults, as well as policies and services attentive to their needs, they can develop to their full potential.
Just some of the factors that impact the development of today’s adolescents include social media, urbanization, unhealthy diets, armed conflict, climate change and migration.
While adolescents have a better chance of improving their health and well-being now more than ever, many lack access to the essential information, quality services and protective environments they need to stay healthy and well.
An estimated 1.2 million adolescents die every year – mostly from preventable causes.
Diseases like malaria and cholera still take the lives of adolescents worldwide, especially in humanitarian settings, where health services, and water, sanitation and hygiene facilities are scarce. In low- and middle-income countries, home to 90 per cent of today’s adolescents, young people are among the populations most at risk of contracting HIV, and the group least likely to have access to treatment.
Increasingly unhealthy diets, inactive lifestyles, mental ill-health, alcohol and tobacco use, and environmental risks such as air pollution are some of the most prominent issues facing adolescents today.
For adolescent girls, the onset of puberty brings additional threats. Poverty and discriminatory social and gender norms can restrict girls’ life choices and exclude them from educational, social and economic opportunities. Each year, an estimated 23 million adolescent girls become pregnant. Maternal mortality – in many cases linked to child marriage – is a leading cause of death for girls aged 15–19.
Mental health conditions also take an immense toll. Over half of these conditions surface during the second decade, with depression emerging as a leading cause of adolescent illness and disability.
Self-harm is a leading cause of death for adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19.
What’s more, some 70 per cent of premature deaths are associated with behaviours, like smoking or binge drinking, that arise during adolescence. Most are linked to non-communicable diseases, including diabetes and pollution-related conditions.
UNICEF is committed to supporting adolescent girls and boys in developing and reaching their full potential. Around the world, UNICEF partners with adolescents to improve the policies, programmes and services that affect their health and well-being. We work with governments in health and other areas – like education; nutrition; gender; child protection; HIV and AIDS; and water, sanitation and hygiene – to increase investments and help countries develop comprehensive plans that address the needs of all adolescents, especially the most marginalized.
UNICEF is focused on strengthening the capacity of primary health care at community level to detect and treat communicable and childhood diseases that impact adolescent girls and boys. Those diseases include tuberculosis, malaria, pneumonia, meningitis and diarrhoea. Additionally, UNICEF works to provide routine vaccinations including HPV immunization, nutrition services and counselling; and where appropriate support, care, treatment and referrals for adolescent mental health and substance abuse.
UNICEF is committed to supporting prevention programmes that are tailored to local needs, with a mix of services focused on adolescent girls, young women and their partners. We also work to increase access to HIV testing, in addition to supporting adolescents living with HIV to access the treatment they need.
UNICEF supports programmes that promote gender equality, reduce stigma and discrimination, and provide adolescents with the information they need to make decisions that affect their own health, including their sexual and reproductive health.
Girls without support through puberty and during menstruation, particularly in low-resource and emergency contexts, often experience stigma and social exclusion while forgoing important educational, social and economic opportunities. UNICEF works to end stigma and discrimination during menstruation through evidence-based advocacy efforts, as well as community and school mobilization. We’re also committed to strengthening education and health systems to provide adolescent girls with the knowledge, skills and services to manage their menstruation with dignity, and free of harassment.
Many mental health disorders have their onset in adolescence. UNICEF works to promote mental well-being during these pivotal years through global advocacy, awareness-raising, and evidence-building to support the implementation and scale-up of effective interventions. We support early prevention, screening and referral through strengthened health systems and community-based mental health programmes.
UNICEF's work is commited to promoting healthy behaviours, the prevention of substance use, increased physical activity, and youth-led policy action. We also help reduce the risk of cervical cancer through Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines.
UNICEF works to protect adolescents from injuries and violence at home, in school and throughout communities. UNICEF supports programmes to reinforce positive parent-adolescent interactions and non-violent discipline. We’re also committed to strengthening the capacity of social welfare systems and investing in the child protection workforce.
Voices of Youth