Adolescent health and well-being

Technology, immigration and other factors are drastically changing the health needs of adolescents.

Fifteen-year-old Shampa, center, attends school with her classmates at Palli Mangal Girls High School, Gobor Chaka, Khulna City Corporation, in Bangladesh.
UNICEF/UN048236/Kiron

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.

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, an estimated 1.2 million still die each year – mostly from preventable causes. 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 supplies and 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. Adolescents are the only age group for whom AIDS deaths are on the rise.

Many adolescents also lack adequate nutrition to fuel their rapidly growing bodies and brains, allowing micronutrient deficiencies and anaemia to set it.

For adolescent girls, the onset of puberty brings additional threats. Poverty and discriminatory cultural 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. Female genital mutilation can also cause life-threatening health complications. 

Self-harm is a leading cause of death for adolescents between the ages of 15 and 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. For 15- to 19-year-olds worldwide, self-harm is a top killer.

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.

A female student smiles in Uganda.
UNICEF/UN0306557/Abdul
A female student at a school in Uganda.

UNICEF's response

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. Our efforts:

  • Fight communicable diseases, like malaria and diarrhoeal diseases. 
  • Support HIV and AIDS prevention programmes tailored to local needs.
  • Strengthen gender-responsive health services through 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.
  • Meet the menstrual health and hygiene needs of adolescent girls, including by preventing and responding to early and unintended pregnancy, conducting evidence-based advocacy to address stigma and providing menstrual hygiene supplies and facilities – especially in emergency settings. 
  • Promote mental well-being and address mental health conditions through global advocacy, awareness-raising, and evidence-building to support the implementation and scale-up of effective interventions.
  • Promote good nutrition, including by providing counseling and other services that support healthy eating and physical activity. 
  • Prevent and respond to non-communicable diseases by promoting healthy behaviours, the prevention of substance use, and increased physical activity. We also help reduce the risk of cervical cancer through Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines.
  • Prevent and respond to violence at home, in school and throughout communities, and protect adolescents from unintended injuries. 

Resources

UNICEF Data

Explore the latest global data on adolescent health, adolescent mental health, HIV and AIDS in adolescents, adolescent HIV prevention and adolescent mortality.


UNICEF Programme Guidance for Early-Life Prevention of Non-Communicable Diseases

This technical document explains how UNICEF incorporates non-communicable-disease (NCD) prevention into programming, focusing on reducing NCD risk factors for mothers, children and adolescents. 


Global Accelerated Action for the Health of Adolescents

This guidance from the World Health Organization and other United Nations agencies provides the comprehensive information countries need to decide what to do for adolescent health.


UNICEF Programme Guidance for the Second Decade

Learn more about how to effectively programme with and for adolescents.


Adolescent Health: The Missing Population in Universal Health Coverage

This paper makes the case that to achieve universal health coverage, policymakers need to take urgent action in the areas of service delivery, financing and governance.


Adolescents’ Mental Health: Out of the Shadows

UNICEF’s Office of Research-Innocenti presents evidence on the psychological well-being of adolescents in 31 countries to shed light on an area in which internationally comparable data are scarce.


ALL IN! to End Adolescent AIDS

Explore this platform from UNAIDS to address HIV and AIDS among adolescents by scaling up HIV testing, high-impact treatment and prevention programmes.


UNICEF Gender Action Plan, 2018–2021

Promoting gender-responsive adolescent health is among the priorities set out in UNICEF’s action plan for gender equality.


Every Woman Every Child Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health

Learn more about this roadmap for advancing the Sustainable Development Goals by improving health and well-being, including by addressing the unique health challenges facing adolescents.


UNICEF Health Strategy, 2016–2030

Read more about UNICEF’s approach to end preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths and promote the health and development of children at all life stages, including adolescence.


Our Future: A Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health and Well-Being

Experts from around the world draw on current data to examine the forces that shape adolescent health.


Consultation with Adolescents on Primary Health Care

The largest-ever U-report poll consulted 385,000 adolescents and young people on their vision for achieving affordable, accessible, quality health care.