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Adolescence and the next generation

Investing in adolescents as the parents of the next generation is important for the well-being of both current and future generations

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Lifestyle during adolescence does not only have an impact on youth’s own health, but also on the health of future generations. Thus, facilitating good health choices in early life should be a priority in public health programs. This is emphasised in an article in Nature involving researchers from the Centre for Fertility and Health.

- Globally, the generation of youth between the age of 10 and 24 has received insufficient attention, both with respect to their health and their life situation. This is unfortunate for the individual, for the society they are living in but also for the next generation, says Vegard Skirbekk, one of the Principal Investigators at the Centre for Fertility and Health.

Skirbekk, who is also a professor at Columbia University, is one of the authors of a paper published in Nature entitled "Adolescence and the next generation".

In the article, the authors stresses that investing in adolescents as the parents of the next generation is important for the well-being of both current and future generations. The article reviews large datasets showing global trends and development in health and points at potential mechanisms for transmission of health between generations.

Youth challenges

Health challenges in today’s adolescents in high-income countries are associated with obesity, low physical activity, drug use and mental disorders. Traditionally, the public health debate has focussed on the impact of these risk factors on individual health, but relatively little attention has been brought to the impact on health of future generations.

- The risk factors are important for the health of the next generation. The reason for this is that our lifestyle can have an impact on sperm and egg cells before fertilisation, but also because lifestyle established at young age follow us into adulthood and is passed on to our children.

Impact

The current generation of adolescents will be the largest in human history to become parents. Parallel to this we see that global megatrends are reshaping adolescence; the time between the end of childhood and beginning of adulthood is increasing. Thus, the impact of adolescent lifestyle and health choices on to the next generation might be at an all-time high.

- It is therefore important that youth and young adults receive social, emotional and material resources that help them make smart health choices that lay the foundation for good and long life, Skirbekk says.

- Obesity is an example. Overweight in children and adolescents is a major public health problem, because it provides increased risk of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life.

A report published by the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) indicates that four out of five overweight schoolchildren will probably remain overweight for the rest of their lives. That means they can lose 10-20 years of healthy life because of overweight or obesity during childhood.

Health in adolescents vs. health in the elderly

Adolescents in high-income countries generally have a good health. Nevertheless, the outlook of many of today's adolescents have become worse, while the health of the elderly has improved over the last decades.

̶ The economic situation among adolescents has become worse over time in a number of countries, not least because of increasing housing costs and that many start working later, Skirbekk claims.

The authors of the article emphasise the need of a wide approach in order to promote good health choices amongst adolescent. They point at education, physical activity and nutrition as important focus areas in the future.

Large datasets containing both biological and sociological variables from whole populations are invaluable resources which will help us understand the mechanisms that transmits health across generations.

Reference:

Adolescence and the next generation. Nature, 2018, 554, 458-466.

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The Centre for Fertility and Health is a Centre of Excellence (SFF) at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.