Intended for healthcare professionals

Clinical Review ABC of adolescence

Health promotion

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 03 March 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:527
  1. Russell Viner,
  2. Aidan Macfarlane


    Health can be defined as optimum physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and intellectual health. Health promotion is the science or art of helping people change their lifestyle to move towards a state of optimal health. Lifestyle change can be facilitated through a combination of efforts to increase awareness, change behaviour, and create environments that support good health practices.

    Need for health promotion

    There are five main reasons for a particular health promotion focus on young people.

    Health behaviours in youth continue into adult life

    One of the most compelling arguments for a focus on adolescent health is that adolescence is a time when new health behaviours are laid down—behaviours that track into adulthood and will influence health and morbidity throughout life. Health behaviours in childhood are dominated by parental instruction and shared family values. During adolescence young people begin to explore alternative or “adult” health behaviours, including smoking, drinking alcohol, drug misuse, violence, and sexual intimacy. The continuity of these behaviours into adulthood is well documented.

    Embedded Image

    Domains for health promotion. Adapted from O'Donnell MP. American Journal of Health Promotion

    Health behaviours relating to exercise and food are also laid down in adolescence and track into adult life. Adolescent obesity predicts adult obesity, which is strongly and independently predictive of cardiovascular risk, and cardiovascular risk in young adulthood is highly related to the degree of adiposity as early as age 13 years. Evidence also shows that health in adolescence can have a considerable impact on the development of adult conditions. This evidence challenges earlier notions that adolescents moving into adulthood “grow out of” health risk behaviours and mental health problems.

    View this table:

    Major health promotion areas in adolescence

    Immediate effects of adolescent health behaviours

    Adolescent health behaviours have a direct effect on immediate as well as long term health outcomes and quality of life—for …

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