CDC addresses six critical types of adolescent health behavior that research shows contribute to the leading causes of death and disability among adults and youth. Other important issues that affect children and adolescents are also addressed.
Six Critical Health Behaviors
- Alcohol & Drug Use
Alcohol is used by more young people in the United States than tobacco or illicit drugs, and is a factor in approximately 41% of all deaths from motor vehicle crashes.
- Injury & Violence (including suicide)
Injury and violence is the leading cause of death among youth aged 10-24 years: motor vehicle crashes (30% of all deaths), all other unintentional injuries (15%), homicide (15%), and suicide (12%).
- Tobacco Use
Each day in the United States, approximately 4,000 adolescents aged 12-17 try their first cigarette. Each year cigarette smoking accounts for approximately 1 of every 5 deaths, or about 438,000 people. Cigarette smoking results in 5.5 million years of potential life lost in the United States annually.
Healthy eating is associated with reduced risk for many diseases, including the three leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, and stroke. In 2007, only 21.4% of high school students reported eating fruits and vegetables five or more times daily (when fried potatoes and potato chips are excluded) during the past 7 days.
- Physical Activity
Participation in physical activity declines as children get older. Overall, in 2007, 35% of 9-12 graders had participated in at least 60 minutes per day of physical activity.
- Sexual Risk Behaviors
Each year, there are approximately 19 million new STD infections in the United States, and almost half of them are among youth aged 15 to 24. In 2007, 39% of currently sexually active high school students did not use a condom during last sexual intercourse.
These behaviors usually are established during childhood, persist into adulthood, are inter-related, and are preventable. In addition to causing serious health problems, these behaviors also contribute to the educational and social problems that confront the nation, including failure to complete high school, unemployment, and crime.
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Other Important Health Topics
During the transition from childhood to adulthood, adolescents establish patterns of behavior and make lifestyle choices that affect both their current and future health.
On average, in a classroom of 30 children, about three are likely to have asthma. About 5.6 million school-aged children and youth are reported to currently have asthma, and asthma is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism.
The prevalence of obesity among children ages 6 to 11 has more than doubled in the past 20 years, going from 6.5% in 1980 to 17.0% in 2006. Several chronic disease risk factors are related to childhood overweight and obesity, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Additionally, obese young people have a great likelihood of becoming obese adults and developing diseases associated with adulthood, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Crisis Preparedness & Response
Preparation is the responsibility of every school, community, and state. Should an event or threat occur or be suspected, every staff member should know how to respond based on protocols or community-based plans established in advance in collaboration with public health and first responder agencies.
Food allergies are an abnormal immune response to certain foods that the body reacts to as harmful. Each year food allergies cause 30,000 cases of anaphylaxis, 2,000 hospitalizations, and 150 deaths. The best method for managing food allergies is prevention by avoiding any foods that trigger a reaction.
Educating students, families, and school staff on simple but effective food safety measures can help prevent the approximately 76 million cases of foodborne illness that are reported in the United States annually, resulting in an average of 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. Food safety is especially important in schools, because each day more than 27 million children get their lunch through the National School Lunch Program. Furthermore, educating students in school about food safety can help them build good food safety habits that last a lifetime.
In the United States different racial and ethnic populations, as well as sexual minority populations, suffer disproportionately from preventable diseases and conditions, many of which result from health-related behaviors that are established during childhood and adolescence.
Mental health is an under-recognized serious health problem. An estimated 21% of young people in the United States between the ages 9 and 17 have diagnosable emotional or behavioral health disorders, but less than a third get help for these problems.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can result from damage to structures and/or nerve fibers in the inner ear that respond to sound. This type of hearing loss, termed “noise-induced hearing loss,” is usually caused by exposure to excessively loud sounds and cannot be medically or surgically corrected. An estimated 12.5% of children and adolescents aged 6-19 years (approximately 5.2 million) and 17% of adults aged 20-69 years (approximately 26 million) have suffered permanent damage to their hearing from excessive exposure to noise.
The most common form of cancer in the United States is skin cancer. Skin cancer is a preventable disease, as exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays appears to be the most important environmental factor. Schools are in a good position to encourage children to develop sun protection habits.
Registries of Effective Programs lists federally-sponsored registries that include programs with evidence of effectiveness in reducing youth risk behaviors.
Sleep and Sleep Disorders This site provides information regarding sleep disorders, the relationship between sleep and chronic disease, injury, and other health outcomes; sleep time recommendations; links to national sleep organizations; and additional resources.
Steps to a HealthierUS is an initiative from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that advances the goal of helping Americans live longer, better, and healthier lives. The Steps Cooperative Agreement Program funds 40 communities nationwide to implement school and other community-based programs that address obesity, diabetes, and asthma, as well as their related risk behaviors: physical inactivity, poor nutrition, and tobacco use.