A second chance in the second decade

Adolescence: a period needing special attention


Implications for health and behaviour

In many ways adolescent development drives the changes in the disease burden between childhood to adulthood—for example, the increase with age in sexual and reproductive health problems, mental illness and injuries.

Adolescents’ neurodevelopmental changes and evolving capacities affect how they perceive risk, how they act on communication about risky behaviours, how they think about the present and the future, and what influences their ideas and actions.

The changes during puberty affect the incidence and clinical manifestations of a number of diseases. These include polycystic ovarian syndrome, eating disorders, depression,28 epilepsy, type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases.29 At the same time, while the changes during puberty may have an impact on chronic illnesses, chronic conditions in turn influence adolescent development.30 Furthermore, the developmental processes taking place affect both the causes and the responses to disability during the adolescent years.

Spinal cord
Video on working with young people living with disabilities

In addition, the social and emotional changes during adolescence heighten risks for behavioural problems such as substance abuse, self-harm and socially disruptive behaviours. For example, early onset of puberty has been linked to subsequent emotional and behavioural problems in adolescent girls and boys.31-33

The appearance of certain health problems in adolescence, including substance use disorders, mental disorders and injuries, likely reflects both the biological changes of puberty and the social context in which young people are growing up. Other conditions, such as the increased incidence of certain infectious diseases, for example, schistosomiasis, may simply result from the daily activities of adolescents during this period of their lives.


Many of the health-related behaviours that arise during adolescence have implications for both present and future health and development. For example, alcohol use and obesity in early adolescence not only compromise adolescent development, but they also predict health-compromising alcohol use and obesity in later life,34 35 with serious implications for public health

It is perhaps not surprising that nearly 100% of the respondents to the WHO global community consultation with adolescents felt that their health was an important issue. However, what is interesting about the responses is that over one-quarter emphasized that their health now was important for their future ability to develop their full potential and because it has implications for their health in adulthood.


The proper functioning of one person is crucial for the society because our problems affect our behaviour, which will sooner or later affect the whole society.

trans, 12-14, Argentina

Health is life. Being in good health allows you to really throw yourself into life.

female, 15-17, France

If you feel well, you produce, you contribute, you are happy and you create a positive social environment.

female, 18-19, Mexico

It is important because I want to live a long life, and I don't want to be restricted by any illness that would be the result of being unhealthy. I want to be a role model to children that I may have because I know how important it is to have someone that you can look up to and to motivate you to be healthy and to exercise.

female, 15-17, United Kingdom

Your health is not only your future but also the future of those around you. If I were to die at a young age, I would be unable to contribute to the economy or the population. An individual contracting a disease increases the risk of other individuals within that community contracting it. Therefore, it is important to keep healthy to ensure my safety and the safety of others.

female, 15-17, Saudi Arabia

Health is relative, based on the way you observe it. You can have a healthy body but an aching soul. I think it sums up to a balance of forces that make your body and mind work together to be able to experience freedom and with that, to create goals.

male, 15-17, Mexico

Health is important to me because being in a state of complete health means being able to function at my full potential, and hence being able to perform at my best and contribute as much as I can to the activities I am involved in.

female, 15-17, Switzerland

Health is the basis for everything. If you want to study or work, you need to be in good physical and mental health.

female, 15-17, South Africa

Adolescents on the meaning of health: To have the ability to do things well, without any sort of discomfort or pain. To ensure a comfortable future, without any complications like diabetes or any sort of cardiac disease, etc., caused by what was done in the past.

Gender not specified, 18–19, Mexico