Youth health and well-being: why it matters?

Type Journal Article - South African Child Gauge
Title Youth health and well-being: why it matters?
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2015
Page numbers 60-68
Over half of the South African population are under the
age of 25. This “youth bulge” has the potential to provide
a future “demographic dividend” to South Africa in the
form of increased economic productivity. However, such a boon
is dependent on a number of factors, key of which is that young
people are healthy. Currently, the burden of disease among youth is
high, with tuberculosis (TB) and HIV emerging as the leading causes
of death among all youth in the country, along with violence and
traffic accidents for young men.1
Improving the health and well-being of adolescents and youth
is crucial for their well-being today, and for their future economic
productivity, because behaviour and health developed during these
stages of life are key predictors of the adult burden of disease,
and because health – like education – is a key factor in the
intergenerational transmission of poverty.2
Better youth health is dependent on the provision of highquality
health services, but is also much intertwined with factors
falling outside the realm of the health sector.3
Poverty, in all its
undermines health and well-being through a variety
of pathways. Poor nutrition, for example, impacts negatively on
a young person’s capacity to learn, progress through school and
earning potential. Poor living conditions and physical inactivity lead
to a higher burden of chronic respiratory and/or heart disease.
Exposure to domestic violence and harsh discipline increases the
risk of young people becoming either victims or perpetrators of
Individual factors such as delinquency and substance abuse
impact on young people’s well-being and are predictors of future ill
health. Family level factors such as the absence of warm, positive
parenting, as well as community level elements such as gang
violence, for instance, impact on the emotional health of youth and
may, in turn, undermine educational outcomes and employment
Against this backdrop, this essay provides an overview of the
current state of youth health and well-being in South Africa and
identifies opportunities to improve outcomes by focusing on the
following key questions:
• What do we know about youth health?
• What is being done to improve youth health?
• What can strengthen initiatives to improve youth health?

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