Across the globe, in 2015, an estimated 1.2 million adolescents died (over 3000 every day), mostly from preventable or treatable causes. i Even though adolescence is a time of relative health for most, this simple fact highlights the importance of preventive care for teens. In fact, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (the most rapidly and widely ratified international human rights treaty in history) specifically states that:
Children have the right to good quality health care – the best health care possible – to safe drinking water, nutritious food, a clean and safe environment, and information to help them stay healthy.
Below are some tips and resources to help raise awareness about preventive care and vaccines:
- Preventive Care and Vaccines Event/Promotional Toolkit
Download the Teen Health Week event/promotional toolkit for preventive care and vaccines.
The day’s aim is to provide facts and resources for teens to learn accurate information about the importance of regular health checkups even when feeling well, and for teens to understand that their vaccination needs do not end in early childhood. It is also an opportunity to build the very important skills of health literacy and digital health literacy.
This toolkit has been created to make it easy for a variety of organizations (Medical Offices, Schools, etc.) interested in adolescent health to participate in Global Teen Health Week. You are free to use and adapt any of the materials herein for your Teen Health Week activities; however, use of these materials is not required in order to promote adolescent health during Teen Health Week. Participating organizations are at liberty to celebrate Teen Health Week in any manner they wish, and are encouraged to be creative in adapting these ideas to meet the needs of the adolescents you wish to reach. Approval for activities or educational materials is not required.
- Preventive Care and Vaccines Facts
A US based survey of more than 500 US teens aged 13-18, 500+ US parents of teens, and 400+ US physicians who regularly care for teens, which was subsequently conducted in Portugal, Germany and Canada, presents some interesting attitudinal facts about adolescent preventive health:
- It was clear that across the 4 countries, staying healthy is a top priority among teens and their parents.
- Nearly universally, teens say they are genuinely interested in living a healthy lifestyle and taking more responsibility for their health. But, physicians do not agree that they see this interest in healthy living in their teen patients.
- Overall, about 1 in 2 parents feel that health care decisions make their teen anxious.
- Both teens and parents share misconceptions about not needing to see a doctor unless they/their teens are sick.
Regarding vaccines, only about half of all US teenagers have received the meningococcal vaccine, which protects against serious bacterial infections that may lead to amputation of infected limbs and death. In 2014, only 39.7% of US teenage girls have received the complete series of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, a vaccine which prevents cervical and other cancers related to HPV. Only half of U.S. adolescents received the recommended influenza vaccine during the 2014-2015 influenza season.iii Teens rely on parents and doctors for information about vaccines, with parents influencing the decision on whether to receive a vaccine the most; however, friends influence their peers as well.iv
An important aspect of health education and preventive skills is insuring adolescents have strong health literacy skills, especially with regards to online health information. Nearly 100% of teens in countries with easily accessible internet search for answers to health questions online. In addition, a third of teens change their health behaviors based on what they find on line. Numerous organizations (e.g. United Nations, American Academy of Pediatricians, National Library of Medicine, etc.) recognize the importance of both health literacy as well as digital literacy and are developing initiatives to improve these skills in all patient populations, including amongst adolescents. Digital health literacy is perhaps even more important in countries or populations with fewer health resources, as patients cannot afford to spend money on ineffective health treatments or advice. However, there is still a significant gender and geographic gap in terms of internet access worldwide – with 346 million youth not connected to the internet:
- 12% more males than females are online, and this difference is greatest in low-income countries.
- 3 out of 5 youth in Africa are offline (versus 1 out of 25 in Europe).
Traditional ways of increasing adolescent literacy in support of preventive care are still needed.
- Other Resources