The 7 Biggest Health Risks Teens Face

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

It's important for parents to be familiar with the biggest health risks that teens face.

It’s normal to worry about your child’s health, especially during the teen years. As a teen gains independence, you can’t possibly monitor every little activity. Instead, she’ll need to make decisions—many that could impact her health—on her own.

So it’s important for parents to know about the biggest health risks teens face. Then, concentrate on ensuring your teen is well-informed and better-equipped to make healthy choices on her own. Focus on the actual health risks that could impact the rest of her life. 

1. Accidents

Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of teen death in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 7 teens between the ages of 16 and 19 die every day 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 to 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 second in your teen’s greatest health risks, as more than 16,000 teens from age 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, according to 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 (Including Prescription Drugs)

By senior year, more than two-thirds of seniors have tried or are regularly using tobacco products. A national survey reported that 28 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. Nine out of 10 high school students reported they drink alcohol, according to 

Drug use is also a serious risk for teens, with 6 percent of teens reported having used cocaine at least once, according to Three percent of high school males report using steroids. There is an increasing number of teen deaths from prescription painkillers.

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.

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