The 7 Biggest Health Risks Teens Face

Teen girl being examined by a doctor
Hengein and Steets / Cultura / Getty Images

It’s normal to worry about your child’s health, especially during the teen years as they gain more independence and make their own decisions. It’s important for parents to know about the health risks teens face and to discuss them together.

Ensuring your teen is well-informed and better-equipped to make healthy choices on her own can give you both peace of mind. Here is a look at some of the top health risks facing teens today.

1. Accidents

Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of teen death in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that every day seven teens between the ages of 16 and 19 die from motor vehicle injuries and even more are treated in emergency rooms every day for serious injuries. Teens age 16 to 19 have a much greater risk of death or injury in a car crash than any other age group.

Before your teen gets behind the wheel—or becomes a passenger with a teen driver—it’s important to understand the biggest dangers that lead to teen car crashes. Educate yourself about the actual risks and talk to your teen about them. Create a plan to ensure your teen is going to be safe behind the wheel and you’ll reduce the risk of an accident.

2. Suicide

Suicide has replaced homicide as the second leading cause of death for teens, with approximately one in 11 high school students attempting suicide. Many more teens think about suicide but don’t act on it. Contributing factors for suicide and attempts at suicide vary, but they include loneliness, depression, family problems, and substance abuse. The issues are complex and aren’t a result of one or two factors. Teens who have good communication with at least one adult are less likely to engage in risky behaviors and less likely to become depressed.

3. Violence

Violence comes in third in greatest health risks for teens, as more than 16,000 teens from ages 12 to 19 in the U.S. die per year by violence. Teens could face a number of potentially violent situations.

In one study of students from grade 6 through grade 10, nearly one-third reported having been bullied or engaging in bullying behavior themselves, according to the CDC. At least 33 percent of students in a national survey reported having carried a weapon—a knife or a gun—at least once in the 30 days previous to the study.

Educate yourself on the risk factors for teen violence. Discuss the dangers with your teen and talk about strategies that can help your teen stay safe. Make sure to discuss dating violence as well, since abuse and violence can occur in romantic relationships.

4. Teen Pregnancy

The good news is that the teen pregnancy rate has declined in recent years from its high in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2012, only about 29 per 1,000 women between ages 15 and 19 became pregnant, according to the CDC. It seems that more teens are using birth control than in previous decades, resulting in fewer unplanned pregnancies. For those teens who do become pregnant, however, the risks can include complications from pregnancy, possibly resulting in illness or injury to the mother or child, and the lost economic opportunity with teen pregnancy remains significant.

5. Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Although teens represent only 25 percent of the sexually experienced population, they represent 50 percent of all new sexually transmitted diseases. Approximately 20 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases occur in the U.S. each year. Approximately 46 percent of high school students in the U.S. reported having had sexual intercourse; it is extremely important for teens to be aware of the risks of becoming infected with HIV as well as gonorrhea among other STDs.

6. Cigarettes, Alcohol, and Drugs

By senior year, more than two-thirds of seniors have tried or are regularly using tobacco products. A national survey reported that 5 percent of high school students are currently using tobacco products. The use of tobacco products is associated with several risky behaviors, including the possibility of using alcohol. 

Drug use is also a serious risk for teens, with roughly half of all high school students report having tried marijuana and 6 percent reported having used cocaine at least once. One-fifth of high schoolers have taken prescription medication not prescribed to them and 3 percent of high school males report using steroids.

Opioids, either prescription painkillers or street drugs like heroin and fentanyl, are a significant problem among all ages. In 2016, more than 4,000 young adults (ages 15 to 24) died of an opioid overdose. However, these figures are on the decline. According to the CDC, there was a 10 percent decline in opioid-related overdose deaths among people aged 15 to 24 years old between 2016 and 2017.

7. Eating Disorders and Overweight/Obesity

About 87 percent of high school students do not eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and more than 25 percent eat more than two servings of high-fat products a day. Adolescents can develop eating disorders in which they do not eat enough, and deliberately starve themselves, such as with anorexia, or they may binge vomit, as in bulimia, or they may overeat and become overweight or obese. About 33 percent of high school students do not get enough exercise, and about 36 percent are enrolled in daily physical education programs.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teen Drivers: Get the Facts. Last reviewed on October 31, 2019

  2. Cunningham RM, Walton MA, Carter PM. The major causes of death in children and adolescents in the United States. N Engl J Med. 2018;379(25):2468-2475. doi:10.1056/NEJMsr1804754

  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Mortality among teenagers aged 12-19 years: United States, 1999-2006. Published in May 2010

  4. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About Teen Pregnancy. Last reviewed on March 1, 2019

  5. Shannon CL, Klausner JD. The growing epidemic of sexually transmitted infections in adolescents: a neglected population. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2018;30(1):137-143. doi:10.1097/MOP.0000000000000578

  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Adolescents and Tobacco: Trends. Last reviewed on May 1, 2019

  7. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teen Substance Use & Risks. Last reviewed on April 1, 2019

  8. Scholl L, Seth P, Kariisa M, Wilson N, Baldwin G. Drug and opioid-involved overdose Deaths — United States, 2013–2017. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2019;67:1419–1427. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm675152e1

  9. Moore LV, Thompson FE, Demissie Z. Percentage of youth meeting federal fruit and vegetable intake recommendations, youth risk behavior surveillance system, United States and 33 States, 2013. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2017;117(4):545-553.e3. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2016.10.012

  10. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adolescent Health. Last reviewed on May 3, 2017.