Teen Health? Don’t Ignore It!

6 05 2013

The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases is working on raising awareness about teen health. They did a survey to find out what the thinking is among healthcare providers, teens, and their parents, and shared the results with us (edited for length). Bet you’ll be surprised at some of the findings – we were!

Approximately one-third of teens may be missing annual checkups, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Census.

Teens often encounter social, emotional, and physical issues that may include eating disorders and obesity, substance abuse, and sexually transmitted infections. While experts agree that teens should get annual medical checkups to be screened for health risks and discuss important health-related matters, perceptions exist that may contribute to millions of teens missing out on yearly visits.

To better understand perceptions about teen health, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID), in collaboration with, and with support from, Pfizer Inc, conducted a national survey, fielded by Harris Interactive, of more than 2,000 parents of teens, teens, and healthcare professionals.

A key finding was that about one in four parents surveyed said that teens’ lifestyle choices today won’t affect their health in the future, and one in five teens surveyed agreed.

The disconnect among parents and teens between today’s choices and future impacts on health contrasts with medical thinking that health behaviors in the teen years can have a long-term impact on health in adulthood.

The survey revealed a number of misperceptions and potential missed opportunities, including:

  • About 60 percent of teens surveyed identified at least one reason for not getting an annual checkup; of those, about one-third believes that they only need to see a doctor when sick.
  • When teens are joined by a parent in the exam room, it can restrict the conversation, according to 84 percent of physicians surveyed.
  • About half of physicians surveyed assumed teens’ friends were a most trusted source for health information, teens surveyed (43 percent) actually listed healthcare providers as their most trusted source for health information.

Checkups are not just for babies

Parents of infants and young children are accustomed to regularly visiting a pediatrician for their child’s checkups. But when children reach the teen years, these annual checkups may fall off the radar. While 85 percent of parents polled say an annual checkup is very important for those zero to five years, there was a 24 percent drop in the percentage who believe the same is true for teens (61 percent).

Professional societies, including the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine (SAHM) and the American Medical Association (AMA), recommend annual checkups for teens. The Affordable Care Act allows teens and young adults to remain under their families’ health coverage up to age 26, which can help ensure that they have access to preventive health care, including checkups.

Annual checkups can be an important opportunity for positive health discussions. Physicians polled report that teens and their parents are more likely to ask about a number of health topics, including weight, sexual health, vaccines, and stress-related conditions during an annual checkup than at a sick visit.

“Teens are smart, but they’re just like the rest of us: overscheduled and overwhelmed. It’s normal to have an ‘it won’t happen to me’ attitude,” said Aria Finger, chief operating officer of DoSomething.org, a large social change nonprofit in the United States. “It’s about changing the consciousness of teens and those who care for them. Everyone wants what’s best. Making the annual checkup part of the norm during teen years sets young people up to take charge and get ahead of the curve about their own health.”

Teens worry about health

Nearly all parents, teens, and physicians surveyed (94, 96, and 97 percent, respectively) agree that teens should have a say in decisions about their own health. And the survey shows being healthy can be top of mind for many; two out of three teens surveyed say they worry a lot or a great deal about staying healthy. However, only 28 percent of parents reported that they believe their teens worry a lot or a great deal about their health.

While teens may trust doctors, they don’t necessarily like talking with them. Almost 40 percent of teens surveyed say they don’t like talking with doctors or other health care providers. Fifty percent of teens surveyed turn to the Internet for health information. Parents surveyed report that when they are in the room, only half of the conversation is directed solely toward the teen.

Furthermore, as noted, having a parent in the teen’s exam room during an annual checkup can restrict the conversation, according to 84 percent of physicians.

“The information and communication dynamic among teens, parents, and doctors is an important one,” said Leslie Walker, MD, immediate past-president of SAHM and division chief of adolescent medicine and professor of pediatrics at University of Washington School of Medicine and Seattle Children’s Hospital. “It’s appropriate for teens to be able to talk to their doctor alone. Establishing this one-on-one relationship between patient and physician encourages independence and responsibility for one’s own health.”

It takes a village

Teens may also turn to other adults in their lives. One in four teens surveyed said they may turn to school-based professionals (teachers, guidance counselors and school nurses) for health information.

“Teens are social beings,” said Finger. “The adults and peers in their lives model behaviors and influence attitudes about health and well-being. Engaging these audiences or equipping them to positively influence teens can go a long way.”

About the survey

Harris conducted an online survey of 504 teens aged 13-17, 500 parents of teens aged 13-17, and 1,325 healthcare professionals including pediatricians and primary care physicians (n=510) and nurse practitioners, physician assistants, registered nurses, and licensed practical nurses (n=815) in the United States.

All respondents were sampled from the online panels maintained by Harris Interactive Inc. and its partners, invited by e-mail to be screened, and if qualified, participate in an online self-administered survey. Data was collected between Dec. 27, 2012 and Jan. 23, 2013. Data for all three surveys (teens survey, parents survey, and healthcare professional survey) were weighted.

US Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy People 2020: Adolescent Health Objectives. http://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topicsobjectives2020/objectiveslist.aspx?topicId=2. Updated March 28, 2013. Accessed April 5, 2013.
U.S Census Bureau. Population Estimates. http://www.census.gov/popest/data/historical/2000s/vintage_2009/. Updated November 2012. Accessed on March 1, 2013.
American Medical Association. Guidelines for Adolescent Preventive Services.1997. http://www.ama-assn.org/resources/doc/ad-hlth/gapsmono.pdf. Accessed April 5, 2013.
SAHM. Clinical Preventive Services for Adolescents. J Adolesc Health.1997;21:203-214.
Harris Interactive. “Adolescent Wellness Survey.” Parent Data Tables. February 7, 2013.
Harris Interactive. “Adolescent Wellness Survey.” Teen Data Tables. February 7, 2013.
Coker T, Sareen H, Chung P, et al. Improving Access to and Utilization of Adolescent Preventive Health Care: The Perspective of Adolescents and Parents. J Adolesc Health. 2010;47:133-142.
Harris Interactive. “Adolescent Wellness Survey.” HCP Data Tables February 7, 2013.
US Department of Health and Human Services. Young Adults and the Affordable Care Act. http://www.healthcare.gov/law/information-for-you/young-adults.html. Updated April 2013. Accessed April 5, 2013 

HCV+ Teen Tells It

24 02 2011

My name is Sabina, I live in San Diego, and I’m 15 years old. I have had hepatitis C (HCV) for about 13 years now and I have just recently decided to get rid of it and started treatment.

On MLK day I’m happy to say that I celebrated my first full week of being on the treatment. And let me tell you it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

I started the treatment on January 10, 2011, and now I take two drugs. Every Monday I have to give myself a shot at night. When I was about to get my first shot, I was so nervous and scared. I thought the needle was going to be inches big but it wasn’t. The needle was an inch if not half an inch big. And it didn’t hurt one bit. But still I’m scared for every Monday to come.

Every morning I take pills after breakfast, and in the evening I take another dose after dinner. And so far I haven’t gotten any serious symptoms. Though everyday I get headaches in the evening that really hurt, but as I was doing some research I found out that it’s better that you don’t take medicine to try to make it better. Instead you should eat and drink lots of water, and it really does help.

From talking to people that have gone through the process before, some tips I learned were carrying a water bottle around with you is smart so you can always have water to drink, to not overreact if something happens because its happens to everyone, and to make sure you tell your parents everything from itchiness to headaches to how you’re feeling.

Something that I’m always concerned about is forgetting to take my pills every morning and evening. But you don’t need to worry about that. You should know that if you forget to take your pills in the morning you should never take 4 that night at once. All of that medicine at once can put a dent into your body.

Another thing that I’m worried about is my sports. But I was told from the doctor that after a few months I should be ready to go back to my everyday activities and sports. I’m a volleyball player and club season is coming up, and the doctor says I should be healthy enough to play. Great news, huh? So if you are a sports person don’t stress about not playing.

Teens Score High On Tests and Sex!

22 11 2010

We were scanning headlines the other day and ran across this one on Time.com: Teen Sex Not Always Bad For Grades.

What a relief! As parents, this is what concerns us about our teens having sex.  “Sure,” we boast, “Hannah’s having sex, but  that little highschooler is cranking out As like there’s no tomorrow!”

This study, presented at a recent American Sociological Meeting, confirmed that teens having sex while in a “serious” relationship did much better in school than teens having casual sex.

Does this mean we should be rooting for a committed relationship for our kids? Or rooting for a time machine to take us back before these gosh darn people presented their findings?

What we really fear is that our teens will find out about this and adopt it as their new slogan: Sex = Good Grades!  Wootwoot!

This is a conundrum for us.  Our organization supports science-based information.  We applaud the study—the effort put forth to bring us this piece of information.  But, we are also parents, and many of our offspring are (gulp) teenagers.

We don’t care that having sex while in a “serious” relationship doesn’t affect grades.  It can affect one’s STI status, and make one a parent before the baby fat has gone from one’s cheeks.

This may sound strange but, moms and dads, if your pimply-faced darling’s grades start to improve, maybe it’s time to worry.

Twilight Love Bites… Ouch!

28 07 2010

The Twilight Series: It’s the rage among teens.  It’s a love story with hip, modern-day vampires.  Love the books, love the movies, but do NOT love the Twilight trend that is emerging among teen friends and couples: biting.

Teens caught up in the Twilight rage are “leaving their marks” on each other as a sign of closeness.  What does this mean?  It means that they are biting each other.  As parents, we thought we had left that nightmare long behind us in the toddler years!  It’s returned, and the implications are even more serious.

First there are the socio-psycho implications. Teen biting is a form of branding, and a form of ownership.  Some teens believe it shows commitment to a significant other, or group of friends. One teen noted biting was an “add-on to kissing,” comparing it to putting a case on his iPhone.

It seemed we had all but eliminated the idea of “blood brothers and blood sisters,” and now we have teens that cut each other’s skin to taste each other’s blood.    

This is extremely dangerous and can cause serious infections.  The human mouth is filled with bacteria, and a bite that draws blood can have serious implications.  If biting has occurred, we need to look for signs of more serious bites, including:   swelling, redness, pain, and pus at the site.   All bites need to be carefully cleaned, and may require treatment with oral or IV antibiotics. 

What often goes unmentioned is the danger of spreading bloodborne diseases,  such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and B, and syphilis.  

There is a vaccine for hepatitis B, so please be sure your teen is vaccinated.  There are no vaccines for HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C.  These diseases do not discriminate, and if your biting, vampire-loving teen chooses to engage in such activities, she may end up with an infectious disease that at best remains with her for the rest of her life, and at worst, takes her life.

You can find evidence of this craze on teen-made YouTube videos and Facebook pages.  Some teens say they have been biting their partners for over a year. 

We all need to be talking to our teens about the health risks involved in this practice.  They need to hear our opinion on this; it will make a difference when it comes time for them to choose to participate in this risky behavior—or not.

Teens, Vaccines, and Media

26 07 2010

How do I communicate with teens? This question hounds most providers as well as parents and teachers. Thanks to excellent research by the Kaiser Family Foundation and PEW Research Center, we know some of the answer lies in the latest media trends and technologies.

But what about health information? Most parents have to walk the line between gatekeeping and educating their teens about their own health and wellness. Nowhere is this juggle more apparent than in the realm of teens and vaccines.

According to CDC, teens 18 and under need Tdap, meningococcal, seasonal flu, and HPV vaccines, as well as to stay current with other childhood vaccines.

In 2008, CDC launched a pre-teen vaccine campaign, impressing on caregivers the importance of vaccinations for this age group as well. The host of recommended vaccines protect against diseases such as whooping cough, HPV, meningitis, pneumonia, and others.

Reaching Our Teens

Communicating the importance of vaccinations to teens isn’t just a matter of laying out the facts. Programs like GetVaxed, PKIDs teen and young adult site, attempt to reach adolescents using colorful, short, pithy health messages with extra punch and color.

Translating health messages, pithy or not, into action is a science that interests many, especially given the evolution of information-sharing with the onset of online and mobile technologies.  In a subsection of the Internet and American Life Report, Pew Research Center tracks the way teens use technology to communicate and get information.

As teens increasingly turn to texting as their preferred method of communication, parents and health providers would be wise to consider ways to text out health and prevention messages.

According to Pew, using texts to educate teens about STD prevention can be effective, though no data exists currently that addresses text immunization messages.

Given the importance of teen and pre-teen vaccination, it’s clear that parents and immunization educators would benefit from more outreach efforts targeting the favored language of teens (texts, Facebook, and the mobile Web).

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s report, Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8 to 18 Year Olds concludes that in the past few years TV as a messaging medium has largely been replaced by the Internet and mobile technology.

Parents and providers are still the trusted purveyors of immunization information for teens, but we need to adapt how we share that information with them to ensure receipt.


5 Summer Books for Strong Daughters

7 07 2010

Imagine your daughter relaxing on a hammock, no TV, iPod, cell phone, or laptop anywhere to be seen. Now picture her reading a book without vampires or princesses or Miley Cyrus —a book that empowers and inspires.

Help your daughter enjoy the magic of summer reading by sharing these gems with her. Organized by grade, these five books are full of girl-power and sure to inspire your younger daughters.

1. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans (Preschool and Kindergarten)

Who can resist the picture-goodness of Madeline, the little French girl with a brave and adventurous spirit?  Madeline makes mischief, but also finds adventure and new friends as she travels around the great cities of Europe, including London, Paris and Rome. Madeline is for all the little girls with brave hearts.

2. Daisy Dawson is on Her Way by Steve Voake (1st, 2nd grade)

Daisy’s tendency to dawdle leads her on a great adventure with animals. Given the gift of talking to animals by a butterfly, Daisy soon grows close to a dog and a horse and many other animal friends. Join Daisy in this first book of a series, as she learns more about friendship on the road to many adventures.

3. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (3rd, 4th, 5th grade)

Who doesn’t love an orphaned redhead with verbal precocity and a knack for getting into scrapes? Join Anne in the first of the series that follows her as she finds a family and makes friends and mischief on Prince Edward Island at the turn of the last century. Her fiercely independent spirit and creative resiliency are also captured in the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie version of the story, starring Megan Followes.

4. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (3rd, 4th, 5th grade)

Harriet is not just a well-off little girl with a strict but loving governess living in Manhattan. She is, more importantly, a spy, with a daily “spy route” and an ever-present notebook. Her wry observations and stealthy adventures, including the often-told “dumbwaiter” exploits, will light the imaginings of any reader.

5. Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle (6th, 7th, 8th grade)

Many of us come to science fiction through the ominous opening line of this wonderful book by Ms. L’Engle (“It was a dark and stormy night…”). Join heroine Meg Murray, an incredibly bright but awkward girl making her way in a puzzling world, as she and her family are visited by a dark stranger, who has fallen through a “wrinkle in time” (a “tesserac”) on his way to another world. The first in a marvelous series your daughter will remember fondly when she’s older.

Any books we left out that you’d recommend?


Acne and Bacteria – Best of Friends

5 05 2010

Acne is a skin condition that causes pimples, zits, whiteheads, blackheads, cysts, pus-filled lesions and, oy, if you’ve ever struggled with it, you know that it’s physically and emotionally painful.

Dead skin cells and the oils on skin can plug up follicles, and this produces acne. When follicles get plugged up, skin bacteria, particularly Propionebacterium acnes (aka P. acnes), get trapped and start to grow, causing irritation.

Because we all have skin bacteria, the first thing we should not do is pick or squeeze pimples. This breaks our skin and allows more bacteria to invade an already inflamed area; then we’re in a world of hurt and spreading acne.

Our hands pick up all sorts of germs all day long. We need to keep them off of our faces because they only add to the problem by dumping even more bacteria on the skin. Keeping our fingernails as short as possible also helps reduce bacterial growth.

Bacteria play a part in the acne game, and that’s what keeps antibiotics in the lineup for acne treatments. We hear of people being on oral antibiotics for months, but what we don’t hear as much about are the topical treatments.

Instead of taking an antibiotic orally, we can apply a treatment directly to the affected area. Antibacterial washes have been effective for some people.

No one treatment works for everyone. If you’re at war with acne and you haven’t tried topical treatments, see your doctor and ask if they could work for you.


Teens and Sleep – Unlikely Partners

19 02 2010

Got teens? Bet they groan and moan in the morning, too exhausted to speak.

When our teenagers don’t get the sleep they need, their drowsiness leads to traffic accidents, poor grades, and stronger, more negative emotions. The same is true for adults, but teens have a particularly hard time getting enough sleep.

How much sleep we get is closely tied to how well the immune system works. Not enough sleep, we’re going to get sick.

Just as sleep affects our immune systems, challenges to our immune systems (such as fighting a virus or bacteria) can negatively affect our sleep.

Although science has long recognized that sleep and the immune system do have a relationship, we haven’t really known why or how it works.  One study found that among mammals (humans are included in this category), the species that sleep the longest have the most white blood cells.

White blood cells help keep infection out and fight infection once it gets in to keep the body healthy.  It’s possible that sleep stimulates the immune system to make the white blood cells that fight infection.

To test the sleep/immune system connection, one researcher gave flu vaccines to a group of college students who had only slept four hours in the previous six nights.  Follow-up testing found that this group of students only produced half of the normal number of antibodies in response to the vaccine.

This doesn’t bode well for the 69% of high school students who don’t get enough sleep each night.  In fact, studies show that only 8% of teenagers get the optimal amount of 9 hours of sleep they need.

What keeps these kids up at night?  Well, social factors such as employment, activities, caffeine consumption, increased amounts of electronic devices in the bedroom, and early school start times are most often to blame.

Teens can turn things around by:

  • Prioritizing the demands on their time so that they get the sleep they need.
  • Establishing a bedtime routine by going to bed and getting up at a regular time. (In order for kids to get enough sleep, they should be going to bed before 10pm, although this may go against natural sleeping rhythms that occur during the teen years.)
  • Not trying to catch up on sleep on the weekends. Specialists think that it doesn’t work. Rather, they suggest teens sleep in a little later on the weekends, but generally keep their bodies in the same sleep-wake pattern they establish during the week.

How much sleep we each need is not an exact science, but there are guidelines and it’s worth it to try to get sufficient sleep.

The bottom line is that all humans need adequate sleep—it boosts our immune systems and keeps us healthy.  It also helps us live longer.  And, we’re not so grouchy.