A second chance in the second decade

Policies to support adolescents’ health


Many national health policies pay attention to adolescents

Developing policies for health is a crucial role of the health sector. National health policies, strategies, and plans express a country's vision and define its priorities, budgetary decisions and course of action for improving and maintaining the health of its people. 3

Among the national health policy documents from 109 countries retrieved in 2013 from the World Health Organization (WHO) Country Planning Cycle Database, 84% of the policies included some attention to adolescents. In three-quarters of them, the focus is on sexual and reproductive health (including HIV/AIDS). Approximately one-third address tobacco and alcohol use among adolescents, and one-quarter address mental health. Specific consideration of other issues that are important to adolescent health, for example, injuries, nutrition or physical activity, is infrequent.


Goals and targets related to adolescents in national health policies

Many countries develop national health goals and targets to make explicit the achievements that they expect from their investment in health. Also, goals and targets trigger programme development and can assist resource allocation. Further analysis of the 109 national health policy documents finds that 52 countries specify goals related to adolescents. These goals can be categorized as:

  • supporting implementation (e.g. training staff, monitoring and evaluation, youth participation)
  • targeting adolescents for increased attention (i.e. for specific health issues or in existing interventions and settings)
  • creating new policies or programmes to serve adolescents.

Policy documents from 32 of the countries spell out measureable targets. These targets focus largely on changing the prevalence of a specific health condition or increasing coverage or access to health services for adolescents. Targets pay less attention to creating programmes, incorporating health education into school curricula, training health-care providers or educating adolescents on health issues, for example.

Goals & targets specific

I know government guidance is to eat 5 fresh fruit and vegetables per day and up to 2000 calories per day. I also understand that it is unhealthy and illegal to use cigarettes, drugs or alcohol.

male, 12-14, United Kingdom

A law that criminalizes abortion, and if I have the need to end a pregnancy I could go to jail.

female, 15-17, Mexico

’Many laws have rules about nutritional content and the fabrication of food in general, forbidding products that are dangerous to our health. Laws about not selling alcohol to minors and not smoking in public also help to preserve our health.

male, 15-17, France

Improvement of the environmental situation in the country and the world. The tightening of laws on tobacco smoking and alcohol. As well as high quality medical service at any time.

female, 15-17, Republic of Moldova

These laws should be enforced with greater strength. Although I have chosen to abstain from such, I have friends my age and younger that are able to purchase alcohol, cigarettes and drugs and such on a regular basis.

female, 15-17, Switzerland