An ounce of prevention for teens

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: June 24th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Sure, many teenagers think they’re invincible. But the reality is, the adolescent years set the stage for later years when it comes to healthy habits. And a new study shows that most American teens aren’t getting the appropriate amount of preventive health services.

Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, analyzed data from nearly eighty-five-hundred adolescents, ages ten to seventeen, who took part in a national survey of families and medical providers. The team focused on several aspects of preventive care, including the amount of care they received in the past year, whether they had been counseled on various health issues and if they had spent any time alone talking to a health-care professional.

Only thirty-eight percent of the young people had received a preventive health visit in the past year. The news was troubling because the teenage years are the best time to help patients develop good health behaviors and discourage damaging behaviors that could affect the rest of their lives.

Researchers also looked at whether doctors counseled teens or parents about specific health issues, including dental care, healthy eating, exercise and being exposed to secondhand smoke, among others. Less than half the teens had been counseled on one of these issues.

What’s the answer? One key strategy is for health-care professionals to continue advocating for programs to increase the number of adolescents who are insured. Teens with private insurance were far more likely to receive preventive care than those who were publicly insured or uninsured.