The report recommended that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH) should focus funding on holistic, evidence-based, population-wide adolescent health programs that consider adolescent risk-taking as normative.
It also notes OASH programs should promote skills – beginning in childhood and continuing through adolescence — that encourage healthy behaviors and help diverse communities improve social and environmental factors.
Promoting Positive Adolescent Health Behaviors and Outcomes is the second national report from the National Academies featuring data and analysis from MyVoice. In May 2019, the National Academies’ Committee on the Neurobiological and Socio-behavioral Science of Adolescent Development and Its Applications published The Promise of Adolescence: Realizing Opportunity for All Youth, a study on adolescent development.
In August 2019, MyVoice posed a poll question of “Describe what it would look like to live your best life” and questions related to that on its interactive text message platform to young people ages 14-24. A total of 945 unique responses were received. Selected text message responses from MyVoice participants and major themes derived from them were included in the national report.
“This report talks about optimizing adolescent health, namely, what would help youth live their best life,” said Tammy Chang, M.D., M.P.H., M.S., assistant professor and a co-author on the report. She also founded MyVoice. “We used those narratives to give context to the scientific recommendations to help policy makers understand the lived experience of youth today.”
According to the report, “neurobiological changes that occur during the course of adolescence influence adolescents to seek novel experiences and make sense of their environments through risk taking and experimentation.” While some of these behaviors do involve risks, many behaviors help lead young people towards assuming adult roles and developing their own autonomy.
“Risk taking therefore is a normal part of the transition away from a childhood state of parental or caregiver dependence to exploring and acquiring independence and self-identity,” the report states. “At the same time, although risk-taking behaviors are a normative and adaptive part of adolescence, adolescents are more prone than those in other age groups to participate in unhealthy risk behaviors, such as tobacco use and binge drinking.”
Recommendations include HHS fund more research geared toward determining the effectiveness of specific core components of programs promoting positive adolescent health behaviors and outcomes. Additionally, it recommends the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention update its Youth Risk Behavior Survey to include youth who are not in school and survey a more comprehensive set of sexual behaviors.
The study — undertaken by the Committee on Applying Lessons of Optimal Adolescent Health to Improve Behavioral Outcomes for Youth — was sponsored by HHS. The National Academy of Medicine (NAM) is one of three academies comprising the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (the National Academies) in the United States. Operating under the 1863 Congressional charter of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academies are private, nonprofit institutions that work outside of government to provide objective advice on matters of science, technology and health.