Researchers from the Institute and the University of Melbourne are hoping to shape the future of adolescent health, by bringing into focus the risks and issues associated with this vulnerable age group.


In a special series on adolescent health published in The Lancet, Australian authors Professor George Patton and Professor Susan Sawyer are calling for worldwide investment in the health and future of adolescents, based on research and grounded evidence about what works.


Approximately half of the world's population is younger than 25 years, with 1.8 billion adolescents.  Today's adolescents are facing unprecedented changes in the world's social and physical environments. These changes are transforming adolescent development and, in so doing, changing the prospects for health now and in the future.


In the first paper of the series, which was led by Professor Sawyer, researchers say adolescents are now more exposed than previous generations to harmful alcohol consumption, illicit drug use, tobacco use and sexually transmitted infections, among other risks.


Professor Sawyer says the paper combines a wide range of research which shows there is a lack of focus on adolescent health, and that the preventable health risks initiated during adolescence commonly have lifelong consequences for health, highlighting the need to address the issue.


"Adolescence could be described as a missing link in the life course approach to health.  The impacts of health-related behaviours that start in adolescents have impacts throughout their lives, for instance tobacco and alcohol use or obesity and physical inactivity contribute to the epidemic of non-infectious disease such as heart, disease, cancer, diabetes and lung disease," he said.


At least 70 per cent of premature adult deaths reflect behaviours started or reinforced during adolescence. The link between adolescent and adult health suggests that evidence based investments in healthy adolescent development have enormous implications for future global health.