Teenage health problems

Current situation 

  • Adolescence is a critical time for engaging interest in healthy habits because behaviour tends to continue into adulthood.
  • The UK has the second highest teenage pregnancy rate in the developed world.
  • The £150 million campaign to reduce teenage pregnancies has failed - there has been a rise in the number of 14-year-olds becoming pregnant.
  • For teenagers, key public health indicators in priority areas such as obesity, smoking, STIs, and teenage pregnancy, have shown adverse trends, or no change, in the past 20 years.

What is the evidence?

  • The specific health needs of young people are often neglected by primary care because it is believed adolescents are on the whole a healthy group who rarely present to their GP (BMJ 2005; 330: 465-7).
  • Improving services to allow young people to take an interest in their health will result in both short-term and long-term population health gains (BMJ 2005; 330: 901).
  • More innovative means of offering advice and promoting sexual health will be needed to maximise the impact on adolescents (BMJ 2005; 330: 107).
  • A report has found that adolescents under the age of 18 in more deprived areas of Britain have higher rates of conception than those in wealthier areas, but are less likely to opt for abortion (BMJ 2004; 329: 14).
  • A study has shown information from schools and good communication between mother and child reduce teenage pregnancy rates (J Epidemiol Comm Health 2007; 61: 20-7).

Implication for practice

  • A recent review has shown that interventions to promote a positive ethos in schools have produced promising results and that such interventions should be piloted and evaluated in the UK (BMJ 2007; 334: 614-6).
  • The government has decided not to introduce mandatory reporting of under-age sexual activity. All cases of sexually active under-age patients should be documented and GPs should record detailed reasons for not sharing information.

Available guidelines

  • NICE has published new public health intervention guidance to halt the rise in STIs, including HIV, and to prevent conceptions in under-18s.
  • The DoH has recently updated guidance that clarifies the duty of confidentiality, care, and good practice in providing advice to under-16s (Teenage Pregnancy Unit, DoH).

Useful websites

Dr Louise Newson is a GP in the West Midlands and author of 'Hot Topics for MRCGP and General Practitioners' PasTest 2006

Key points

  • Sexual health is important in teenagers.
  • Teenage pregnancy rates are still high.
  • Teenage health is often neglected.
  • GPs should be providing better healthcare for teenagers.


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