The World Health Organization recently reported more than 1.2 million adolescents around the world die every year. That's at least 3,000 people ages 10 to 19 per day. Even more heartbreaking? Most of these deaths are from preventable or treatable causes.
"Adolescents have been entirely absent from national health plans for decades," Dr. Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director-General of WHO, said in the news release. "Relatively small investments focused on adolescents now will not only result in healthy and empowered adults who thrive and contribute positively to their communities, but it will also result in healthier future generations, yielding enormous returns."
When looking through data from 2015, experts found stark differences when they looked at those ages 10 to 14 versus 15 to 19, and females versus males.
Here are the top causes:
- Road injuries are the leading cause of death overall, killing more than 115,000 adolescents. Older boys, ages 15-19, make up almost 77 percent of the deaths. Most victims are pedestrians and cyclists, rather than drivers, and this is especially true in lower income communities. But more work needs to done to specifically determine what the underlying factors are, for instance whether it's from drunk driving, exhausted drivers or unsafe street infrastructures.
"These factors for adolescents are around their whole environment. It should not be dangerous to walk down the road," Dr. Sonia Saxena, a primary care expert at Imperial College London who was not involved with the report, told CNN.
There is very strong evidence that parenting makes a huge difference to adolescent health risk.
- For girls ages 15 to 19, pregnancy and childbirth complications are the top cause of death. About 11 percent of all births worldwide are from girls this age, and although adolescent birth rates are decreasing, many are still dying from sepsis, obstructed labor, hemorrhage and unsafe abortions. WHO recommends better access to sexual and reproductive health-care services as well as higher quality antenatal care.
- For adolescent girls, and especially those ages 10 to 14 in low- and middle-income countries, lower respiratory infections such as pneumonia are the leading cause of death. This is often because they are often exposed to dirty fuels in their home when cooking and lack immediate treatment for infections.
- Suicide, often from depression rooted in violence, poverty or humiliation, is the third-leading cause of death in older adolescents. Rates are higher among older adolescent girls and among adolescents in Europe, and in South and East Asia. Half of all mental health disorders start by the age of 14, but most cases are undetected and untreated.
What can you do?
While many of the changes need to happen fundamentally across sectors in education and government policies, parents also have a huge influence on 10- to 19-year-olds. According to WHO, parents, families and communities have the greatest potential to positively influence adolescent behavior and health.
"There is very strong evidence that parenting makes a huge difference to adolescent health risk," said Dr. David Ross, a medical officer and co-authored of the report.
To start, check out these expert parenting tips on how to handle some complicated adolescent-related issues:
If you're interested in doing more, donate or participate in organizations that help tackle the major issues mentioned in the WHO report. For instance, Generation Her locally empowers teen moms in Southern California, while the United Nations Population Fund works on a more global scale. Or if you're interested in helping adolescents dealing with mental health crises, try the Trevor Project or American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.