The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines adolescence both in terms of age (spanning the ages between 10 and 19 years) and in terms of a phase of life marked by special attributes. These attributes include:
- Rapid physical growth and development
- Physical, social and psychological maturity but not all at the same time
- Sexual maturity and the sexual activity
- Development of adult mental processes and adult identity
- Transition from total socio-economic dependence to relative independence.
In India 22.5% are adolescents. During adolescence peak growth and development of the girls’ takes place, which has direct influence on child bearing. Adolescents live in diverse circumstances and have diverse health needs. Adolescents are full of energy, have significant drive and new ideas. Even though mortality is less in this age group, they suffer of various health and nutritional problems which may lead to morbidity and nutritional deficiencies.
- Adolescence is one of the most rapid phases of human development.
- Biological maturity precedes psychosocial maturity.
- The characteristics of both the individual and the environment influence the changes taking place during adolescence.
- Younger adolescents may be particularly vulnerable when their capacities are still developing and they are beginning to move outside the confines of their families.
- The changes in adolescence have health consequence not only in adolescence but also over the life-course.
- The unique nature and importance of adolescence mandates explicit and specific attention in health policy and programmes.
Big change is the big challenge
Puberty, which usually begins between the age of 10 and 16, is the gradual process of changing from a child to an adult. Each person starts to change at a different time. Changes in the body, behaviour and lifestyle are some of them.
The changes that occur during the process
- Hands arms, feet, legs, hips and chest become larger. The body will produce hormones which are special chemical messengers that tell the body how to grow and change.
- The sexual organs of the body starts growing bigger and begin producing hormones.
- The skin may become more oily.
- Presence of hair in arm pits, legs, arms and pubic region.
Getting along with parents
Adolescence is time when many young people and their parents have trouble getting along. Some points that the ‘youth’ should remember and understand to do are:
- Appreciate one's family.
- Be understanding of the parent’s beliefs and values.
- Remember that parents want the best for their children.
- Be honest and open with parents.
- Care for parents and be respectful.
Health problems in Adolescents
- Mental health - Many mental health problems emerge in late childhood and early adolescence. Some of the common mental health problems include conduct disorders, anxiety, depression and eating disorders as well as other risk behaviours including those that relate to sexual behaviour, substance use and violent behaviour.
- Violence and injuries - Injuries are among the leading causes of mortality and morbidity among adolescents. Physical fighting can lead to severe injuries, and it is associated with substance misuse and other problem behaviours. Fighting is common among younger adolescents, more so among boys than girls. Serious injuries, e.g. those requiring medical attention are common among younger adolescents.
- Substance use - Alcohol use contributes to risks during adolescence for injury, violence, unprotected sex and suicide attempts. In adulthood it plays a role in risk for noncommunicable diseases. Tobacco use—both smoked and smokeless—during adolescence increases the risk of persistent nicotine addiction, leading to regular and sustained tobacco use in adulthood.
- Nutrition - Chronic malnutrition in early years is responsible for widespread stunting and adverse health and social consequences throughout the life span. Anaemia is one of the key nutritional problems in adolescent girls. In some countries both underweight and obesity are at concerning levels at the same time. The top health-compromising behaviours among adolescents include unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, alcohol and other substance use and poor sleep habits.
- Sexual and reproductive health - Unprotected sex can lead to a variety of adverse outcomes, from sexually transmitted infections to unintended pregnancy, with its risks of early childbearing or unsafe abortion. Young people’s risk of HIV infection is closely correlated with age of sexual debut.
Basic body care
Here are a few simple and basic things required to take good care of the body.
- As one reaches puberty, perspiration will be more. Bathing will keep skin clean and prevent bad body odour.
- Clean the teeth at least twice a day to avoid tooth decay (cavities) and to have a fresh breath.
- As the oil glands produce much sebum (an oily substance), pimples may develop. Pimples are very normal in adolescence, and there is no way to avoid them altogether. Keeping the skin clean is the best solution.
- A nutritious diet is a must. Avoid eating too many sweets and fried foods.
- Think positive as a sound mind is also required for good health.
- A Strategic Approach to Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health (RMNCH+A) in India
- Technical Handbook on Anaemia in Adolescents