New Study Says Growing Number of Teens at Risk Due to Lack of Medical Attention

Wednesday, December 15th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

A new study shows a growing number of adolescents are at increased risk for physical and mental health problems. Researchers say at a time when many adolescents are coping with violence in schools, violence on the streets, drugs, sex and mental health problems, many don't feel they're getting the medical help they need.

Dr. Carol Ford and a team of researchers from the University of North Carolina interviewed some 20,000 teens. They found male adolescents, minority teens and those from single parent homes were less likely to seek medical attention. The teens polled gave many reasons. They say an inability to pay, thinking the illness would go away, fear of what the doctor would say and the difficulty of making a doctor's appointment.

"These adolescents are at increased risk for things like depression, substance abuse, sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancies,” said Ford. “These are the teens that we definitely want to seek help, because they may be the teens who would reap the most benefit of seeing a doctor or nurse.”

Parents also played a key role. Among teens who did not receive health care, 12 per cent say its because parents won't go with them to the doctor, while an equal number expressed concern that their parents would actually find out. “Whenever teens seek health care, doctor and nurses encourage open teen and parent communication,” said Ford. “We encourage parents and teens to talk openly. But we also want to make sure that every teen gets the health care that they need. This means that private, confidential services should be available,” he said.

One key positive finding of the study was that teens who reported having an annual physical were less likely to forgo healthcare when they need it. Researchers conclude all teens should have a visit with their doctor annually. And that all teens need health insurance and should have access to not only affordable, but convenient health care services.

Researchers point out that many communities have addressed the problem by setting up school-based and school-linked clinics. Researchers also say the clinics make it easy for teens to know where to go and which doctor to see.