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Unmet teen healthcare needs cause problems as adults

Nearly 1 out of every 5 teens does not receive medical care, researchers found in a new study.

By Stephen Feller
Unmet teen healthcare needs cause problems as adults
Unmet health needs during adolescence can lead to continued and larger issues as adults. Photo by Alexander Raths/Shutterstock

BOSTON, Aug. 18 (UPI) -- Regardless of race, ethnicity or economic background, nearly 1 of every 5 adolescents does not get treatment for medical conditions, a "surprising" study on teen health found.

Previous research has shown that unmet medical needs during adolescence can lead to lifelong habits of not seeking care, as well as the development of avoidable conditions.

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"In many countries, cost is a significant barrier to health care access, and the World Health Organization has identified universal health coverage for adolescents as a global health priority," researchers wrote in the study, which is published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "However, even when adolescents have access to services, many forgo health care for other reasons, including concerns about confidentiality, stigma, and judgmental attitudes among health care providers."

Researchers analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health on 14,800 people who participated in the first and fourth waves of surveys. Participants had mean ages of 15.9 years old at the first wave and 29.6 years at the second wave.

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The surveys included 5 self-reported measures of health: general health; functional impairment; time off of work or school; depressive symptoms; and suicidal ideation. The researchers also considered baseline health, health insurance, age, gender, race, income and parental education when judging access to health care.

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Unmet health care needs were reported by 19.2 percent of adolescents. The odds of adverse outcomes among adolescents with unmet needs increased by between 13 and 52 percent when compared with adolescents who received needed care, depending on the specific health concern.

"Teenagers have the same broad range of health needs as other age groups," Dr. Dougal Hargreaves, a pediatrician and health services researcher at University College London, told HealthDay. "Teen needs also include mental health problems and preventive care, such as immunizations and obesity prevention. Some health problems are particularly common in adolescence. For example, anxiety, depression and other mental health problems often start in adolescence and early adulthood, but many young people experience long delays in getting the help they need."

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