Intended for healthcare professionals

Clinical Review ABC of adolescence

Epidemiology of health and illness

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 17 February 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:411
  1. Russell Viner,
  2. Robert Booy


    Adolescents constitute a large percentage of the population, have a distinct pattern of health and illness, and are one subset of the population that has experienced little or least improvement in overall health status over the past 40 years.

    The youth demographic

    In most developed countries young people aged between 10 and 20 years account for 13-15% of the population. The World Health Organization classifies young people as 10-24 year olds, with adolescence (10-19 years) and youth (15-24 years) overlapping within that age range. There were 7.6 million adolescents aged 10-19 years in the United Kingdom in mid-2000, making up 12.7% of the population. Projections suggest that the numbers of adolescents will grow by 8.5% between 1998 and 2011.

    Causes of death in 15-19 year olds in United Kingdom, 1997

    Health problems among adolescents seem to be increasing. This partly reflects a rise in the proportions of black and other ethnic minority groups in the adolescent population. Ethnic diversity is greater in young people than in the general UK population, and minority ethnicity is linked to poor health outcomes in adolescence, such as suicide, teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and mental disorders; the most plausible link is through socioeconomic disadvantage.

    UK population by age, mid-2000

    Patterns of disease and health risk

    Disease and health behaviours in adolescents have patterns that are distinct from those of children or adults. In particular, adolescent mortality and morbidity rates show worrying trends in national priority areas such as mental health—for example, male suicide, sexual health (teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections), and cardiovascular risk (obesity and type 2 diabetes).

    Age distribution of ethnic groups in United Kingdom, 2001-2


    The considerable recent improvements seen in mortality in 1-4 year olds have not been matched in adolescents, and death rates among 15-19 year olds are now higher than in the 1-4 year age group. This …

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