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Member Research and Reports

Columbia: Health Inequality Threatening More Adolescents Worldwide Than Ever Before

A global study of the health of the world’s 1.8 billion adolescents reveals greater health challenges than those of 25 years ago. An additional 250 million face a triple burden of infectious and non-communicable diseases and injuries vs. 1990. This is the first comprehensive snapshot of young people who make up a third of the world’s population.

“The study demonstrates both success and failure. Health, education, and employment have not kept up with adolescent needs,” said U.S. author Dr. John Santelli, professor of population and family health at Columbia Mailman.

The study in The Lancet tracked progress in 12 indicators of adolescent health in 195 countries.

Compared to similar countries, the U.S. is lagging in preventing injuries, obesity, tobacco use, and binge drinking among young people.  The U.S. is doing well on high school graduation but failing on transiting young people into employment.

Non-communicable diseases were the leading cause of poor health in every setting. In the U.S., poor health from injury was higher than in similar high-income countries.

The global number of adolescent daily smokers decreased by 20 percent, but the proportion of smokers in multi-burden countries increased substantially.

The number of teenagers aged 15-19 globally who binge drink changed little from 1990. The  U.S. figure was 34 percent for males but only 13 percent among females.

Gender inequality remains a driver of poor health. The number of 15-24-year-olds not in education, employment or training (NEET) is three times higher for young women than men. In the U.S., 17 percent were NEET, compared to 4 percent in the Netherlands and 11 percent in the UK.

The research builds on an earlier study by the Lancet Commission of Adolescent Health of which Dr. Santelli was a member.

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