The world’s adolescent population is approximately 1200 million, more than three quarters of whom reside in developing nations. There are about 36 million adolescents aged 10-19 years of age in Bangladesh which constitutes more than one fifth of the total population of this country. What is the adolescence which acts as a connector between childhood and adulthood? The World Health Organization states that the duration of adolescence is 10 to 19 years. It is the transitional stage of life cycle where first and most significant physical and mental changes of a person intervene. For this, adolescence is recognised as the delicate bridge between early life and legal adulthood. Proper nutrition, appropriate management of reproductive health & careful attention to mental health are crucial for leading a healthy adolescence.
Adolescent NutritionAfter first year, adolescence (10-19 years) is the second most critical period for physical growth. During this period adolescents gain up to 50% of their final adult weight and 15% of their final adult height; 80% of which is achieved during the early adolescence (10-15 years). This sudden growth spurt and its close association with cognitive, emotional, behavioural and hormonal changes make adolescence, specially the early adolescence a nutritionally vulnerable period. Boys and girls both face this nutritional vulnerability but girls are more prone to this because of their reproductive health issues. Moreover, as girls are the future mothers, they are directly linked with nutrition of a baby. Researches revealed that maternal height and weight are directly related with offspring’s growth. So it is distinct that a healthy adolescent girl is the key factor of a healthy and sound baby.
Adolescent Reproductive Health
Secondary sexual characteristics of a person take place during adolescence. Because of this, significant physical and mental change occurs among adolescents. Lack of appropriate information, knowledge, family as well as social support cause negative adolescent reproductive health outcomes. Girls are exposed to more negative outcomes than boys because of some social factors. Early marriage and early pregnancy are mainly responsible for this. According to recent statistics on child marriage in southern Asia, the prevalence of childmarriage in Bangladesh is highest at 71%, followed by Nepal (62%), India (59%) andPakistan (50%). According to Bangladesh Demographic Health Survey (2014), 31 % of adolescents aged 15-19 years have begun childbearing, about 1 in 4 has given birth, and another 6 percent were pregnant with their first child. Adolescent marriage and early child birth are directly linked to higher unwanted pregnancy, higher rate of abortion, higher rate of sexually transmitted diseases, higher birth complications and above all higher rate of maternal and neonatal mortality. All these issues directly affect our national economy.
Adolescent mental Health
In developing countries where it is a great challenge to establish basic needs for all, mental health is a greatly neglected sector in these countries. As a result, depression, anxiety, suicidal tendency, drug addiction and substance usage are emerging public health concerns now-a-days in developing countries. Due to cognitive, behavioural and hormonal changes, adolescents are a vulnerable population who are exposed to various mental health disorders. Caring attitude of parents, teachers as well as society are crucial to combat this newly materializing public health issue.
The writer is a Research Fellow, Nutrition & Clinical Services Division (NCSD), icddr,b