Our ideas about adolescence have changed drastically in the past century, and its definitions can vary greatly across cultures and societies. Within the adolescent health field, individuals in their second decade of life and early 20s are viewed as whole persons who should be nurtured and valued during their transition to a healthy, productive adulthood.
During this time of biological, social and psychological development, adolescents are in the healthiest period of their lives; however, for a wide variety of reasons, this is also the time when individuals are most likely to engage in risk-taking behavior, some of which may have lifelong impacts on their health.
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Adolescents are adversely affected by many serious health outcomes ranging from HIV/STIs to violence to poor mental/emotional health; although much research has focused on the threats to adolescent health, several protective factors have been identified that can help youth thrive.
Adolescence is a time of great vulnerability, especially for populations of special consideration including youth of color, GLBT youth, youth with special health care needs, homeless/precariously housed youth, and youth that are or have been involved with the juvenile justice system.
The interest and investment in adolescent health is reflected in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2020 objectives.