Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

Adolescent Health & Youth Development

During adolescence, the transitional period between childhood and adulthood, many crucial milestones must be met in order to ensure optimal physical health, emotional health, and identity formation. Varying rates of biological and cognitive development, as well as difficult life circumstances such as lack of family and home stability, are complicating factors. Healthy progress towards the milestones of adolescence – for example increased levels of independence and psychosocial health – is essential for academic and personal success and wellbeing.

There are over 25 million adolescents in the United States, and nearly nine million currently live in low-income households, while close to four million live in households at or below the federal poverty level. Adolescents, particularly those from low-income households, have unique needs and vulnerabilities in a number of areas, including mental health, sexual and reproductive health, substance use, violence and risk-taking behaviors, and nutrition and obesity.

Research on brain development suggests that the adolescent brain is particularly receptive to prevention-oriented interventions, supports, and youth development strategies geared towards developing resilience and social competence.  Yet prevention science and evidence-based strategies that promote early intervention and seek to exploit these sensitivities do not appear to be gaining traction on the ground.

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