“We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”
– Franklin D.Roosevelt
India is home to 243 million adolescents, which accounts to about 21.3% of the country’s population. Adolescence is a transition phase from childhood to adulthood and also a time of immense biological and psychological changes. By taking steps to protect young boys and girls from health risks and promoting healthy behavior during adolescence, we can prevent health problems that are likely to occur in adulthood. This way we can also enhance our country’s future health and capacity to develop.
During the teen years, growth and development are rapid, and this demands a relatively high amount of nutrition. A nutritional deficiency experienced in this period may have a negative impact on the health of the individual. It’s vital for teenagers to eat a balanced diet that includes Proteins, Carbohydrates, Fats and Oils, Calcium, Iron, Zinc and Folate to reach their full potential.
Malnourishment, especially among girls can sap their strength and well-being and also of the children born to them. Deprivation of nutritious food can be due to poverty, or lack of awareness. Under-nutrition can have implications like:
- Poor resistance to infections
- Low bone density
- Adverse effects on growth and sexual maturation
- Poor obstetric outcomes
- Inability to learn and work at maximum productivity
Programs like WIFS (Weekly Iron and Folic Acid Supplementation) facilitate encountering anemia in adolescents. The services include weekly administration of iron and folic acid, bi-annual deworming and nutrition counseling. KISHORE SHAKTI YOJANA is another national program which aims at improving the nutrition and health of girls in the age group of 11 to 18 years.
Children become overweight and obese for different reasons like sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy eating patterns, genetic factors or hormonal problems. It places them at risk of developing chronic ailments like diabetes, heart disorders, high blood pressure and so on. Obesity also has a strong association with asthma, sleep disorder, reflux diseases, gallstones, metabolic derangements and PCOS (Polycystic ovary syndrome). As elders, it is crucial to watch for signs of obesity in children and adolescents and encourage them to involve in physical activities that get the heart pumping. In case the child is already obese, it is advisable to seek medical attention to make changes for a healthier lifestyle.
WHO recommends adolescents to indulge in at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-intense physical activities daily, like cycling, walking, yoga or any sport/ play. The health benefits include cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, bone health, healthy body weight, and psychosocial benefits. Our societies and communities need to create enabling environments for physical activities.
Mental health states a person’s social and emotional wellbeing. During adolescence, they go through many changes and challenges since their brains are still maturing and they experience increased impulsivity.
Sadly, the top cause of illness among adolescents is depression; and Suicide is considered the third highest cause of teenage deaths. Often, young girls succumb to peer pressure to look a certain way and give into crash dieting which can also lead to eating disorders like Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia nervosa.
As parents, it’s essential to make them feel accepted and to teach them about self-love, rather than condemning or accusing them. A healthy relationship backed by understanding, love, and support from the family can have a positive impact on their mental health. Teenagers who have good mental health feel positive about themselves, have healthy relationships with friends and family, get involved in physical activities, eat well and get a good night’s sleep.
Addiction occurs when repeated use of alcohol, or drugs, or tobacco inhibits the brain’s natural reaction to exert control over the impulse to consume the substance.
There could be various why adolescents would give in to substance abuse, like:
- Association with drug-using peers
- History of physical/ sexual abuse
- Early life trauma like the death of a loved one
- High expectations and pressures from the family
As a result, it can contribute to medical, psychological, and legal consequences in life.
Establishing healthy social norms regarding substance abuse and providing adolescents with psychosocial support at home and at schools, can set a strong foundation to prevent unhealthy behaviors later in life.
After menarche, it is common to have irregular cycles during the first two years. A prevalent hormonal disorder among girls of reproductive age is Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Common signs associated with PCOS are:
- Menstrual irregularities
- Excessive facial hair
- Ovarian cyst with excess androgen
- Significant weight gain
- Insulin resistance
Complications of PCOS can include:
- Metabolic Syndrome
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Sleep Apnea
- Endometrial Cancer
See your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms or have concerns about your menstrual cycles.
Sexual and Reproductive health
Majority of the adolescents in India do not get formal sex education. Parents too often fail to discuss topics like puberty, genital hygiene, safe sex and abstinence, early pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. As a result, children turn towards sources like the internet, magazines, and peers. Due to an inability to differentiate facts from fantasies, they fall prey to temptations. Early sexual activity is not uncommon in our country, and complications related to pregnancy and childbirth are the two causes of death for 15-19 years old girls globally.
Risks in adolescent pregnancy are:
- Preterm labor
- Prolonged and obstructed labor
- Postpartum Hemorrhage
- Death during childbirth
- Dropping out of school
Are we failing as a parent or a teacher?
It’s a tightrope walk, and it needs sincere efforts, not by words but by gestures and acts. Once we accept our role and responsibilities, we can contribute to improving the overall wellness of the young generation. With an open-minded attitude, we can surely transform and bring forth healthy adolescents and better humans.