At our home, other than my husband and I, the rest of the family are youth. To nurture them has given me substantial experience that I can draw from as we explore youth health-seeking habits. Though the definition of youth differs, in this article, we shall adopt the United Nations definition. The United Nations defines youth as a young person who falls between 15 and 24 years, a period of transition from childhood to young adults. Globally, statistics indicate that youths account for one out of every six people in the world population, and the number is constantly increasing. For any country, the youth determinants how the future will look like, its leadership, politics, and economy.
To bridge the health gap, we shall look at the health profile of the youth, identify diseases that are a threat, facilitators, and barriers to health-seeking, and find out how their health can be optimized.
Youth General Health Profile
Compared to other age groups, the youth are the most robust and have a minimum death rate from all causes. However, global statistics by Worlds Health Organization indicates that 1.2 million youth die every year mainly from diseases that are preventable or can be treated successfully. Several factors are responsible for this observation;
- The world is experiencing the highest number of youth, and the trend is increasing. Developing countries have a disproportionately large number of adolescents and young adults, yet their economic resources are inadequate to support the busting age set. Most of the youth are unemployed, have high crime rates, and indulge in substance abuse.
- The majority of the youth are uneducated. Education among the youth is fundamental for skills development for the labor market. Thus, the lack of education affects by limiting their employability. When employed, the youth work in informal sectors, have poor remunerations and live in crowded dwellings that increase their risk of communicable diseases.
- Youth and politics. The majority of youth cannot engage in fruitful politics, and their needs are never prioritized, condemning them into more poverty.
- The youth is a period of physical and physiological spurts into puberty, sexual maturity, emotional and social development. The growth of the reproductive system increases their vulnerability to sexually related abuses. Globally, the youth suffers a higher prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS.
- In some cultures around the world, girls are married off when very young. The lack of health literacy and limited access to reproductive health services subject them to early pregnancies and difficult childbirth. The cyclic burden of early marriages affects their future generations condemn them to abject poverty.
Factors that increase youth health risks to diseases and ailments
- The youth have a higher burden of drug and substance abuse. Consequences of drug and substance abuse lead to low academic performance, high rates of absenteeism, poor peer relationships, cognitive decline, and behavioral maladaptation. Cognitive decline, low productivity, and juvenile crimes are manifested.
- Early pregnancy and childbirth. Pregnancy in most women is a journey to the unknown, to adolescence, the impact is even more difficult. Early pregnancies carry a higher risk of complications and difficult childbirth. Newborns of young girls are likely to have low birth weight, premature, and increased newborn illnesses. In the community, the girl is stigmatized, rejected, and often neglected. A complex maze.
- Malnutrition and obesity. The youthful years are a stage of transition and habit-forming. Poor nutrition rich in highly processed foods is the cause of higher body mass index, micronutrient deficiency, and increased risk of non-communicable diseases like diabetes in later years.
- Physical inactivity. Poor physical activity among the adolescent and young adults may have no immediate effect. However, the practice lays the foundation for most preventable non-communicable diseases.
- Injuries and trauma. Young people are the most vulnerable to intentional and nonintentional fatal injuries such as road traffic accidents, suicides, war injuries, poisoning, and falls. Time spent alone away from adults and the increasing independence of the youth promote risky behaviors that are sometimes fatal.
- Self-harm is conceived by the youth when they cannot cope with challenging life events such as bullying at school, violence at home, or sexual abuse. Children with difficult up-bringing may find solace in self-harm and may even have suicidal tendencies.
Factors that promote youth health-seeking habits
- Supportive social networks. The family is central to the health and well-being of the youth. A functional family where children are free to discuss their needs, dissatisfaction, and happiness is resourceful in promoting health-seeking behavior. A keen parent will note when a youth exhibits symptoms of illness and can intervene by providing advice to seek help, availing finances, and accompanying them to the health facility.
- Knowledge of health services. When youth is aware of available health services, they are likely to seek health care when they are sick. An early orientation into health services by the parent or school will create a lasting relationship with the health care. The youth will view hospitals as a source of healing and are confident with the services provided.
- Health literacy. Information is power applies to the youth too. When the youth access health information and are made aware of health risks that affect their health, they are more prompt to seek help.
- Youth-friendly health care. Ample evidence indicates the importance of privacy and confidentiality to the youth. Ensuring that consultations are conducted in private by trustworthy health providers increases youth confidentiality in the health system.
- The severity of illness. There is ample literature that supports the relationship between disease severity and promptness to seek health care. A disease perceived as serious will receive prompt attention than a slow onset illness. Most chronic diseases are insidiously raising the risks of complications and disabilities.
Factors that deter youth health-seeking habits
- Inadequate health knowledge and poor access to health information limit the utilization of health information among the youth. Inadequate literacy affects how the youth approach health needs.
- Lack of awareness of youth-friendly health services. Even though efforts towards setting up youth friendly-health services have been massive, the youths are unaware of their use and existence. Extending such services to institutions of learning with large numbers of youth can enhance health-seeking.
- Social-cultural hindrances. How the youth are cultured affects how they perceive biological processes. The conservative traditions with little knowledge on sexuality have greatly affected sexual awareness with consequences such as the high prevalence of sexually transmitted infections.
- Insensitive health services that are unresponsive to youth health needs especially sexual and reproductive health services. Due to fear and embarrassment, the majority of young adults seeking health services prefer similar gender consultations. However, health services have remained insensitive discouraging youth health-seeking habits.
- Cost of care. The majority of youths have limited finances, and out-of-pocket payment for health services can be daunting.
- Negative attitudes of health providers. Youths seeking reproductive health services may feel stigmatized by health providers making it difficult to access contraceptives.
- Perceived lack of privacy and confidentiality is a deterrent to youth accessing health services.
- Lack of parental support or requirement for parental consent presents barriers to accessing care.
Policy considerations and actions to support youth health
- Adolescents and young adults present a window of opportunity where governments can influence the future health trends of their countries. The promotion of health knowledge among the youth supports positive decision-making on sexual behavior, nutrition, physical activity, and consequences of risky habits.
- The family is the gatekeeper of adolescents and young adults’ health. A supportive family system conscious of youth vulnerability implements strategies to reduce risks and strengthen health prevention and promotion. Forging positive social relationships that encourage freedom of expression and fosters inclusivity can build self-confidence in the youth.
- Broaden adolescent and youth health scope to cover other areas that affect their health. Mainstreaming HIV and AIDS care, nutrition, mental health, and well-being to disease prevention is one example.
- Education increases the likelihood of employment and promise for a better future. Looking at the socio-economic status of most families, strategies beyond free education to conditional fund support would be most productive.
- A supportive health system that broadens the knowledge and skills base of health providers to reflect the needs of adolescents and young adults. Changing the commonly held belief, negative attitudes to friendly health providers that foster trustfulness and confidence when offering services to the youth.