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CDC addresses six critical types of adolescent health behavior that research shows contribute to the leading causes of death and disability among adults and youth. Other important issues that affect children and adolescents are also addressed.

Six Critical Health Behaviors

  1. Alcohol & Drug Use
    Alcohol abuse is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States (4% of the total deaths in 2000), and is a factor in approximately 41% of all deaths from motor vehicle crashes.
  2. Injury & Violence (including suicide)
    Injury and violence is the leading cause of death among youth aged 10-24 years: motor vehicle crashes (37% of all deaths), all other unintentional injuries (16%), homicide (18%), and suicide (13%).
  3. Tobacco Use
    Each day in the United States, approximately 4,000 adolescents aged 12-17 try their first cigarette. Each year cigarette smoking accounts for approximately 1 of every 5 deaths, or about 438,000 people. Cigarette smoking results in 5.5 million years of potential life lost in the United States annually.
  4. Nutrition
    Almost 80% of young people do not eat the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables. Nearly 9 million youth in the United States aged 6–19 years are overweight.
  5. Physical Activity
    Participation in physical activity declines as children get older. Overall, in 2005, 36% of 9-12 graders had participated in at least 60 minutes per day of physical activity. Nearly 37% of 9th graders, but only 33% of 12th graders, participated in 60 minutes of physical activity on a regular basis.
  6. Sexual Risk Behaviors
    Each year, there are approximately 19 million new STD infections in the United States, and almost half of them are among youth aged 15 to 24. Thirty-four percent of young women become pregnant at least once before they reach the age of 20.

These behaviors usually are established during childhood, persist into adulthood, are inter-related, and are preventable. In addition to causing serious health problems, these behaviors also contribute to the educational and social problems that confront the nation, including failure to complete high school, unemployment, and crime.

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Other Important Health Topics

On average, in a classroom of 30 children, about three are likely to have asthma. Five million school-aged children and youth are reported to currently have asthma, and asthma is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism.

Crisis Preparedness & Response
Preparation is the responsibility of every school, community, and state. Should an event or threat occur or be suspected, every staff member should know how to respond based on protocols or community-based plans established in advance in collaboration with public health and first responder agencies.

Food Allergies
Food allergies are an abnormal immune response to certain foods that the body reacts to as harmful. Each year food allergies cause 30,000 cases of anaphylaxis, 2,000 hospitalizations, and 150 deaths. The best method for managing food allergies is prevention by avoiding any foods that trigger a reaction.

Food Safety
Educating students, families, and school staff on simple but effective food safety measures can help prevent the approximately 76 million cases of foodborne illness that are reported in the United States annually, resulting in an average of 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. Food safety is especially important in schools, because each day more than 27 million children get their lunch through the National School Lunch Program. Furthermore, educating students in school about food safety can help them build good food safety habits that last a lifetime.

Mental Health
Mental health is an under-recognized serious health problem. An estimated 21% of young people in the United States between the ages 9 and 17 have diagnosable emotional or behavioral health disorders, but less than a third get help for these problems.

Childhood Obesity
The prevalence of obesity among children ages 6 to 11 has more than doubled in the past 20 years, going from 6.5% in 1980 to 17.0% in 2006. Several chronic disease risk factors are related to childhood overweight and obesity, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Additionally, obese young people have a great likelihood of becoming obese adults and developing diseases associated with adulthood, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Skin Cancer
The most common form of cancer in the United States is skin cancer. Skin cancer is a preventable disease, as exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays appears to be the most important environmental factor. Schools are in a good position to encourage children to develop sun protection habits.

Related Resources

Adolescent Health. During the transition from childhood to adulthood, adolescents establish patterns of behavior and make lifestyle choices that affect both their current and future health.

Addressing Health Disparities. In the United States different racial and ethnic populations, as well as sexual minority populations, suffer disproportionately from preventable diseases and conditions, many of which result from health-related behaviors that are established during childhood and adolescence.

Registries of Effective Programs lists federally-sponsored registries that include programs with evidence of effectiveness in reducing youth risk behaviors.

Sleep and Sleep Disorders This site provides information regarding sleep disorders, the relationship between sleep and chronic disease, injury, and other health outcomes; sleep time recommendations; links to national sleep organizations; and additional resources.

Steps to a HealthierUS is an initiative from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that advances the goal of helping Americans live longer, better, and healthier lives. The Steps Cooperative Agreement Program funds 40 communities nationwide to implement school and other community-based programs that address obesity, diabetes, and asthma, as well as their related risk behaviors: physical inactivity, poor nutrition, and tobacco use.

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Page last reviewed: September 25, 2007
Page last modified: September 08, 2008
Content source: National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Adolescent and School Health

Division of Adolescent and School Health
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Department of Health and Human Services