Module 2: perspectives on working with young people: learner's workbook

5.2 Some physical health issues for young people

Page last updated: 2004

The majority of young people in Australia have good health. The causes of poor health for most young people are social rather than physical. For example, the process of separating from parents and family is often associated with high-risk behaviours (e.g. drink driving, experimental drug use, unsafe sexual practices) which have the potential to cause disability, injury or even death.

Choices have consequences
Workplace learning - group activities

Choices have consequences

Adolescence is a critical period in respect to health because the choices young people make during youth development can have a significant impact on their health as adults. For example:
  • Research shows that the majority of people who smoke as adults began when they were young people.
  • Nutrition and dietary patterns in adolescence have an influence on the risk of developing osteoporosis later in life.
  • Poor sun protection can increase the risk of skin cancer later in life
  • Poor nutrition and low activity levels in adolescence are linked to the development of chronic conditions such as heart disease and obesity.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare published a report in 1999 that provided an extensive national review of the health of young people between 12-24 years of age. Key findings of the report are listed below.

National health statistics for young people

  • More than two-thirds of Australia's young people believe they are in good health.

  • The death rate has dropped by 29 percent in the past two decades, primarily as a result of a 60 percent reduction in motor vehicle accidents.

  • Injury is the leading cause of death for young people, with two-thirds of deaths to due some form of injury such as accidents and suicide.

  • Mental health issues account for more than half of the total youth health burden of the community. Top of page

  • Between 1997-1999 there was a 71 percent increase in the rate of successful suicides for young males.

  • Despite considerable health promotions that focus on the risks of tobacco smoking, 40 percent of 20-24 year olds smoke and 25 percent of 14-19 year olds smoke.

  • One in five males and one in ten females between 18-24 years of age are dependent on alcohol and/or other drugs.

  • The death rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is three times higher for young males and twice as high for young females when compared with non-Indigenous young people.

  • New cases of HIV infection among young males declined from 11 per 100,000 population in 1998. HIV infection rates have consistently been much lower for young females (1 per 100,000).

  • Chlamydia is the most common form of sexually transmitted disease among young females.
Most of the health problems highlighted in the above statistics are preventable. The 'catch 22' is that often the activities young people engage in as part of an otherwise normal, healthy development (e.g. driving) have risks attached to them which can lead to accidents, injury or death (e.g. high-speed driving) or increase the risk for future health problems (e.g. smoking, poor diet).

Those at most risk who require special attention are young people who are:
  • Indigenous
  • Living in rural or remote areas
  • Involved in the juvenile justice system or in State care (e.g. wards of state)
  • From different cultural and language backgrounds
  • Chronically ill or have disabilities.
Comprehensive responses are needed including health promotion, early intervention and prevention strategies to address the preventable health concerns of young people (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 1999).

Workplace learning - group activities

Question - What are some of the health issues that young people in your community experience?(These issues might include mental health, suicidality, sexually transmitted diseases, alcohol and other drug use, Indigenous health, obesity or eating disorders etc.)

Take home exercise

Question - Select one of the issues you have identified for further research. Look up the Internet to find any local services that might assist young people with this issue. Find out as much information as possible including whether any action has been taken in your local community to understand it more, or to address it.