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By on June 5, 2012

Adolescence and the social determinants of health

It is well known that adolescence is a critical period for development.  A new article from Lancet points out just how life experiences and conditions during this period can significantly impact health behaviors.  Often labeled social determinants of health, these factors, the circumstances in which people live, include economic, political, social, and cultural conditions that affect the health of individuals.

In Adolescence and the social determinants of health, Viner et al. examine what they call, “the cause of the cause” – what leads to adolescent health behaviors that determine future health outcomes. Social determinants of health increase or decrease the likelihood for behaviors such as sexual violence to occur throughout the lifespan.  As the authors state, they determine the trajectory of lives and future health outcomes.  While typical factors such as prosocial peers, norms, parenting, family connections, and school environment come to the fore in this article, the authors dig deeper, examining social conditions such as sexism and racism that underlie and impact the above characteristics.

National social and economic structures also aect and constrain the way in which family, school, and peer factors aect young people’s health. This finding might explain why many of the most powerful interventions are systemic eorts that seek to embed interventions within community contexts. – p. 1649

Knowingly or unknowingly those who work to prevent SV often work to improve social determinants of health.  Consistent with the authors’ recommendations, our prevention strategies usually include:

  • Improving the conditions of daily life.
  • Tackling the inequitable distribution of power, money, and resources.
  • Measuring the problem, evaluating action, and expanding the knowledge base.

While the social determinants of health impact all areas of life, it is interesting to consider how they can be utilized to enhance sexual violence and domestic violence prevention specifically.  How do you use social determinants of health in your work and what can the prevention movement do to enhance our use of them?

For access to the full text article, click here.


Adolescence and the social determinants of health
Prof Russell M Viner PhD,Elizabeth M Ozer PhD,Simon Denny PhD,Prof Michael Marmot PhD,Prof Michael Resnick PhD,Adesegun Fatusi PhD,Prof Candace Currie PhD
The Lancet – 28 April 2012 ( Vol. 379, Issue 9826, Pages 1641-1652 )
DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(12)60149-4

Article Summary:

The health of adolescents is strongly affected by social factors at personal, family, community, and national levels. Nations present young people with structures of opportunity as they grow up. Since health and health behaviours correspond strongly from adolescence into adult life, the way that these social determinants affect adolescent health are crucial to the health of the whole population and the economic development of nations. During adolescence, developmental effects related to puberty and brain development lead to new sets of behaviours and capacities that enable transitions in family, peer, and educational domains, and in health behaviours. These transitions modify childhood trajectories towards health and wellbeing and are modified by economic and social factors within countries, leading to inequalities. We review existing data on the effects of social determinants on health in adolescence, and present findings from country-level ecological analyses on the health of young people aged 10—24 years. The strongest determinants of adolescent health worldwide are structural factors such as national wealth, income inequality, and access to education. Furthermore, safe and supportive families, safe and supportive schools, together with positive and supportive peers are crucial to helping young people develop to their full potential and attain the best health in the transition to adulthood. Improving adolescent health worldwide requires improving young people’s daily life with families and peers and in schools, addressing risk and protective factors in the social environment at a population level, and focusing on factors that are protective across various health outcomes. The most effective interventions are probably structural changes to improve access to education and employment for young people and to reduce the risk of transport-related injury.


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