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Investing in adolescent health and wellbeing could transform global health for generations to come, says major report

Decades of neglect and chronic underinvestment have had serious detrimental effects on the health and wellbeing of adolescents aged 10-24 years, according to a major new Lancet Commission on adolescent health and wellbeing being launched in London on Tuesday 10 May, 2016 1. Two-thirds of young people are growing up in countries where preventable and treatable health problems like HIV/AIDS, early pregnancy, unsafe sex, depression, injury, and violence remain a daily threat to their health, wellbeing, and life chances.

Evidence shows that behaviours that start in adolescence can determine health and wellbeing for a lifetime. Adolescents today also face new challenges, including rising levels of obesity and mental health disorders, high unemployment, and the risk of radicalisation.

Adolescent health and wellbeing is also a key driver of a wide range of the Sustainable Development Goals 2 on health, nutrition, education, gender, equality and food security, and the costs of inaction are enormous, warn the authors.

The Commission’s findings should be a wake-up call for major new investment in the largest generation of adolescents in the world’s history (1.8 billion) that will yield a triple dividend of benefits – today, into adulthood, and for the next generation of children.

“This generation of young people can transform all our futures. There is no more pressing task in global health than ensuring they have the resources to do so. This means it will be crucial to invest urgently in their health, education, livelihoods, and participation,” says the Commission’s lead author Professor George Patton, University of Melbourne, Australia. 3

The Commission brings together 30 of the world’s leading experts from 14 countries and two young health advocates, led by four academic institutions: the University of Melbourne, Australia; University College London, UK; the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UK; and Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, USA.

Adolescents aged 10-24 years represent over a quarter of the population (1.8 billion), 89% of whom live in developing countries. Their number is set to rise to about 2 billion by 2032. Adolescence is a critical time of formative growth and brain development second only to infancy (Commission, panel 3). “Puberty triggers a cascading process of brain development and emotional change that continues through to the mid-20s. It brings a different and more intense engagement with the world beyond an adolescent’s immediate family. These processes shape an individual’s identity and the capabilities he/she takes forward into later life. It profoundly shapes health and wellbeing across the life-course,” 3 explains Professor Patton.