Improving adolescent wellbeing is an urgent global priorityBMJ 2022; 379 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.o2551 (Published 27 October 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;379:o2551
- Anshu Mohan, senior strategic adviser1,
- Sophie M Kostelecky, consultant1,
- Aditi Sivakumar, under-30 board vice chair1,
- Merette Khalil, under 30 vice chair of knowledge and evidence working group1,
- Helen Clark, board chair1
- Correspondence to: A Mohan
Over 1.5 million adolescents aged 10-24 years died in 2020, nearly 5000 every day, mostly from preventable or treatable causes.1 Globally, one in seven 10 to 19 year olds experiences problems with mental health, accounting for 13% of the global burden of disease in this age group.2 Every year at least 12 million girls are married before the age of 18, inhibiting their access to education.3 The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its pledge to “leave no one behind” will not be achieved if urgent attention is not paid to adolescents and their wellbeing.
On 8 September 2022, the United Nations General Assembly agreed by consensus to hold a Summit of the Future in 2024. The summit will be an opportunity to accelerate implementation of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and to provide the impetus for governments to deliver on promises to support future generations. The urgency of these goals is shown by current threats, including the aftermath of the covid-19 pandemic, climate change, conflict, and cost of living crises in many countries. For the summit to deliver, it is essential to ensure that political commitments and financial investments focus on the needs of adolescents. This group, especially those aged 10-19 years, have long fallen between cracks in service provision and not been a political priority. Current and succeeding generations of adolescents need all stakeholders to ensure political commitment and financing to meet their needs.
Now, a joint collection on adolescent wellbeing from The BMJ and the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health (PMNCH) aims to motivate leaders to change the historical lack of attention to adolescents’ needs within policy making (www.bmj.com/adolescent-wellbeing). The collection challenges the status quo and highlights priorities for attention. It follows a call to action in an open letter signed by heads of state, UN agencies, academic institutions, healthcare associations, and youth leaders.4 The letter noted the discrepancy between need and provision for adolescents, which still remains a concern. It called on everyone—decision makers, policy makers, civil society, service providers, educators, donors, innovators, and adolescents—to come together to deliver concrete policies, integrated programmes, and sustained investments to improve adolescent wellbeing globally.
Building on a definition and framework for adolescent wellbeing developed by PMNCH and the UN’s Adolescent WellBeing Initiative,5 the collection’s analysis articles, opinion pieces, and letters provide an in-depth understanding of adolescent wellbeing. Five intersecting domains (good health and optimum nutrition; connectedness, positive values, and contribution to society; safety and a supportive environment; learning, competence, education, skills, and employability; and agency and resilience) highlight the need for genuine collaboration between sectors in all programming and responses.
Articles in the collection explore the effects of covid-19 and climate change on adolescent wellbeing67 and reflect on the need to develop indicators for measuring wellbeing,8 providing impetus for a monitoring framework to help hold the global community to account and track progress. There are also powerful perspectives on the lack of attention paid to ensuring that adolescents and young people are involved in the development of policies and programmes that affect them and signalling the important role of youth leaders, youth networks, academics, and their institutions in developing integrated policies and programmes that take into consideration social determinants of health, financial stability, and diversity.91011
Investment to catch up
Most importantly, the overall collection argues a compelling case for increased investment in adolescents and young people. The arguments draw on human rights perspectives, social and health perspectives, demographic and epidemiological trends, and economics to emphasise the need for enhanced investment in adolescents. Previous studies indicate that investment in this age group produces excellent returns.5
With less than eight years left to achieve the UN’s sustainable development goals and progress lagging far behind, countries must develop evidence based policies, substantive strategies, and costed implementation plans for concrete, funded programmes to improve adolescent wellbeing based on intentional multisectoral action. To ensure accountability, countries should commit to reporting data on progress at the SDG summit in 2024 and subsequent yearly reviews.
The 1.8 billion campaign and the Global Forum for Adolescents convened by PMNCH in 2023 are an opportunity for policy makers and practitioners from all relevant sectors to pledge and ensure that adolescents, with all their diverse needs, talents, and aspirations, remain at the centre of this work. The BMJ collection provides valuable insights into how this might be done, but it is up to us, the global community, to act.
We thank David A Ross and Rachael Hinton for their important inputs to earlier versions of this editorial.
Competing interests:The BMJ has judged that there are no disqualifying financial ties to commercial companies. The authors declare no other interests. Further details of The BMJ policy on financial interests are here: https://www.bmj.com/sites/default/files/attachments/resources/2016/03/16-current-bmj-education-coi-form.pdf.
Provenance and peer review: Commissioned, not peer reviewed.
This article is part of a collection proposed by the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health. Open access fees were funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The BMJ commissioned, peer reviewed, edited, and made the decision to publish these articles. Emma Veitch was the lead editor for The BMJ.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution IGO License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/igo/), which permits use, distribution, and reproduction for non-commercial purposes in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.