California’s youth population is exploding – both in numbers and, potentially, behaviors breeding poor health and even early death.
Those twin conclusions in a report by a coalition of public- and private-sector advocates have led the group to propose new ways of turning teens from problem-prone to healthy.
The California Adolescent Health Collaborative presented its findings and recommendations Tuesday.
The population of children aged 10 to 19 is growing almost three times as fast in California as in the nation. The state’s youth population is expected to rise from 4.4 million in 1995 to 6 million in 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts.
This growth is expected to amplify the state’s racial diversity, affecting everything from pregnancy prevention to
murder rates, which differ between
“It’s an important social experiment that we’re about to engage in,” said Claire Brindis, a group leader and pediatrics professor at the University of California, San Francisco. “Schools are starting to think about this in terms of classrooms they need. Prisons are starting to think about this.”
Now is also the time for health advocates to consider the implications, Brindis said. The group’s report argues that while the warning signs aren’t extreme, the population boom could compound typical teen problems.
Teens are already murdered here at a greater rate than the national average. Meanwhile, California must work to keep its teen suicide and car crash death rates relatively low, Brindis said.
There is no vaccine for these kinds of health hazards and no one expects a quick fix. Instead, the group argues, adults need to adopt a fundamentally new view of growing up.
“We’re talking about changing the way that people think about teens to get people to understand that teens are a resource instead of a liability,” said Serena Clayton, the group’s director who wrote the report with Brindis.
That requires change among parents, who may now view the teen-age years as an eerie perversion on the path to adulthood.
“Kids need to feel connected to meaningful adults,” Brindis said.
Not that all the onus falls on older generations. Teen-agers need to take advantage of public health assistance programs, engage in volunteer work and even insist on advising institutions that influence their lives, the groups said.
“It’s not just about ’just say no to drugs,”’ Clayton said. “It’s about how to be successful.”
On the Net: youth.ucsf.edu/nahic/alpha.html