World health report

Executive summary

Older children and adolescents

Traditionally regarded as enjoying the healthiest phase of life, these youngsters have tended to receive insufficient public health attention. But today theirs is a "prime time" for health promotion to encourage them to establish healthy patterns of behaviour that will influence their development and health in later years.

  • There will be an even greater need than at present for education and advice on unhealthy diet, inadequate exercise, unsafe sexual activity and smoking, all of which provoke disease in adulthood but have their roots in these early formative years.
  • Research suggests that stress, poor physical surroundings and an inadequate care-giving environment during early childhood are related to violent and criminal behaviour at later ages. More children than ever are growing up in such circumstances.
  • The transition from childhood to adulthood will be marked for many in the coming years by such potentially deadly "rites of passage" as violence, delinquency, drugs, alcohol, motor-vehicle accidents and sexual hazards. For many, especially those growing up in poor urban areas, adolescence will represent the most dangerous years of life.
  • Sexuality and sexual activity, key aspects of affirming maturity and adulthood, are becoming more dangerous due to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, while globally there is still enormous ignorance about sex among young people, particularly adolescent males.
  • In 1995, girls aged 15-19 gave birth to 17 million babies. That number is expected to drop only to 16 million in 2025. Pregnancy and childbirth in adolescence pose higher risks for both mother and child. Earlier sexual activity increases health hazards for women.