Analysis Calls for Focused Attention to Health Needs of Young Adults

October 18, 2006
News Office: Phyllis Brown (415) 502-6397

The health status of young adults is far worse than that of teens, with mortality rates more than double due in part to increased rates of injury, homicide and suicide, according to a new analysis by UCSF adolescent medicine researchers.

Young adult health issues mirror those of adolescents, and the country needs more research and programs that address the older group in an effort comparable to earlier attention to the health needs of teens, the researchers emphasize.

Among their findings:

--Young adults, defined as 18 to 24 year olds, have triple the suicide rate of adolescents, with young men's suicide rate six times greater than that of young women, (approximately 19 versus 3 per 100,000).

--Unintentional injury is the leading cause of death for young adults, about 70 percent of which is attributable to motor vehicle accidents, with a high percentage of those involving alcohol use.

--Homicide rates peak in young adulthood. Young men's homicide rate is six times higher than that of young women. Among all young men the rate is 27 per 100,000; for young women it is 4.6 per 100,000. It is 111 per 100,000 for young African American men.

--The nation's lowest rates of health insurance coverage of any group nationwide are among young adults. Only about 38 percent of young men and 31 percent of young women are insured.

"Although many health problems of young adulthood could be addressed through preventive interventions and greater access to care, this age group has largely been neglected by researchers, policymakers and professional organizations, in contrast to support for adolescents," said M. Jane Park, lead author of 'The Health Status of Young Adults in the United States.'

"As with adolescents, advancing a young adult health agenda will require collaborative efforts of different sectors, such as colleges, the military and employers, as well as health professionals," said Park, coordinator of Policy Research Projects in the Division of Adolescent Medicine, UCSF Department of Pediatrics.

Published in the September 2006 issue of the journal Journal of Adolescent Health, the review article examined data from electronic databases, articles and reports since 2000 that referenced young adult health. Social indicators, mortality, morbidity, risky behaviors and health care access and utilization were examined. Park said that young adults fare worse than adolescents in almost every measure of health, just as institutional supports, including family and school supports, weaken.

"Many young people are left to fend for themselves, as their risk for health problems gets worse. While families can, and do, help during this time of transition, we need to think about policies that will help all young adults make healthy choices," Park said. "This is a diverse population. In addition to racial and ethnic diversity, young adults live in many settings, such as college, the workforce, and the military. We need to recognize that diversity when conducting research and creating policies to improve health."

Many young adults, one in seven, are "disconnected" from activities leading to financial independence, being neither in college or vocational school, the workforce, or the military, the researchers found. "Young adults are at particularly high risk of falling behind economically if they do not finish college", Park said. Also at high risk are those young adults who as teens were dependent on institutional support, such as those in foster care.

The rates of tobacco use among young adults, the actual leading cause of death among all age groups, is more than three times that of adolescents, 40 versus 12 percent. The rate of heavy drinking among young adults is 15 percent, versus 3 percent among adolescents. And more than 20 percent of young adults were involved in illicit drug use, nearly double the rate for teens (11 percent). The article also found that the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections, including chlamydia and gonorrhea, peak during young adulthood, and the number of new HIV/AIDS cases in 2002 was about three times higher in young adults than in adolescents.

Other article authors include Tina Paul Mulye, Sally H. Adams, Claire D. Brindis, and Charles E. Irwin, Jr., all of the Public Policy Analysis and Education Center for Middle Childhood, Adolescent and Young Adult Health at UCSF.

The research was supported by grants from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Resources and Services Administration of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

University of California, San Francisco is a leading university that advances health worldwide by conducting advanced biomedical research, educating graduate students in the life sciences and health professions, and providing complex patient care.

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