Adolescent Health

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention | 4/25/2012, 12:53 p.m.

Adolescence is a time of transition, marked by growth and change as well as risks and rewards that differ substantially from one young person to another. No one can keep up with all the complex forces--positive and negative--that can influence adolescents' development. Many of the CDC-funded Prevention Research Centers (PRCs) are devoted to understanding the factors that promote the health and well-being of young people. These PRCs conduct and synthesize research and then package it so that parents, pediatricians, policymakers, and other adults have trustworthy resources and tools to guide and support our youth through a once-in-a-lifetime transition.

To Reach a Teen, Try Texting

The Columbia University PRC keeps abreast of new media and new trends in teenagers' communication patterns, such as the use of instant messaging, mobile Internet access, and gaming technology. In a recent state-of-the-art review,1 the researchers described health promotion opportunities available by tapping into the new media channels integral to youth culture. Their work supports the American Academy of Pediatrics' advice to pediatricians: understand and be ready to interact with families around the content and use of new technology.

At two PRCs, research focuses on the potential of online social networks to reduce the occurrence of sexually transmitted diseases among young people. The University of Michigan PRC explores the power of an online community of peers to exchange accurate information and support healthy attitudes. The University of Maryland PRC is testing the effectiveness of an online community of organizations in sharing resources with residents and relieving the burden on local health clinics to offer education and services.

To Understand Teens, Keep Learning

The University of South Florida PRC uses social marketing to understand adolescents as a market segment susceptible to commercial marketing techniques that can affect diet, use of tobacco or alcohol, and other habits. The researchers advise communities and professionals on how to frame health messages for youth appeal to counteract potentially unhealthy influences from advertising. The PRC's diverse training programs turn public health practitioners into savvy social marketers.

In The Teen Years Explained, a guide written by the Johns Hopkins University PRC and released in 2010, parents, public health practitioners, and anyone working with adolescents finds an essential resource on adolescent development. The authors use plain English to explain the normal physical, cognitive, emotional, social, sexual, and spiritual changes that happen during adolescence. The book is available online and for purchase--in hard copy or ebook form--on the PRC's website . More than 11,000 copies of the book are already in use.

To Find a Healthy Adult, Start with a Teen

Not on Tobacco (NOT) is a proven smoking cessation program for teenagers; about 1 in 5 NOT participants report having quit by the end of the program. Building on its experience in developing NOT, the West Virginia University PRC makes recommendations to clinicians on helping youths quit smoking. The researchers summarize the data and the strategies practitioners need at their fingertips. In addition, while the American Lung Association trains facilitators to bring NOT to schools, the PRC continues research on the program--by testing the integration of a physical activity component into NOT sessions. The principles of NOT align with the goals of Million Hearts , an initiative--spearheaded by the Department of Health and Human Services--to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes over the next 5 years by implementing proven, effective, inexpensive interventions. Smoking cessation is one of the initiative's clinical prevention goals.

Research projects at the PRCs mentioned here and at other PRCs are yielding innovative strategies to prevent teen pregnancy, reduce teen violence , discourage underage alcohol use , improve adolescents' mental health, and build resilience in young people to respond well to adversity. By exploring multiple facets of adolescent health and development, the PRCs are showing that adolescence is not a mysterious and troubling time of life but the pathway to healthy adulthood.