The world currently has the largest generation of 15 to 24 year-olds in human history. By 2065, the global youth population is projected to peak at almost 1.4 billion, or 13% of the global population. Though adolescents are generally relatively healthy compared to other age groups, adolescents face unique challenges that can seriously impact their physical and mental health throughout their life course, as well as effects on the health of their future children. In the United States, sexual and reproductive health problems including HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are major causes of adolescent mortality and morbidity. Adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, early marriage, and unmet need for contraceptives and safe abortion.
Between 2015-2020, the fertility among girls aged 15 to 24 years was 178 births per 1,000 women, compared to 244 births per 1,000 women during 1990-1995. Most births among adolescents occur in low-resource settings, often as a result of social inequities including gender inequality, poverty and a lack of access to education and reproductive health services. In 2019, the proportion of births to girls aged 15 to 24 years was higher the global average of 36% in Latin America, the Caribbean (41%), and Central and Southern Asia (38%). Nearly 12 million girls aged 15–19 years and nearly 800,000 girls under 15 years give birth each year in developing regions. Early pregnancy increases the likelihood of contracting an STI, dropping out of school, experiencing mental health issues and developing life-threatening childbirth-related complications (the leading cause of death for 15–19-year-old girls globally).
A number of interventions, including parent-based ones, aimed at addressing these challenges have been implemented in diverse settings, but many of them have not been rigorously evaluated. Further research is required to better understand the local needs of adolescents and identify effective strategies to improve their sexual and reproductive health. Developing interventions focused on addressing mental health issues in adolescent populations is also essential given that self-harm is the second-leading cause of death among adolescent girls. Increased efforts to meet the health needs of adolescents are critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and represent a worthwhile opportunity for investment.