Public Health Professionals
Public health professionals are encouraged to take action on one of the roles identified below to further improve adolescent health in our communities.
The Public Health Field: Making a Difference
State and local public health agencies play a central role in laying a strong foundation for healthy lifestyles. Disease prevention and health promotion for adolescents should begin with a focus on healthy development.
In general, public health activities involve preventing disease, promoting wellness, and monitoring disease prevalence at the local, state, and national levels. Public health agencies are a trusted voice in the face of epidemics, food outbreaks, and disasters. Increased prioritization and leadership by public health officials on adolescent health and preventive services has the potential for significant impact. One of the great contributions of public health programs is their ability to address racial/ethnic health disparities and tackle service delivery challenges, especially for vulnerable populations. Public health programs often provide services of “last resort,” which are crucial in overcoming barriers to care in underserved populations and addressing unmet needs.
Public health professionals conduct a range of activities to improve the health of children and adolescents, including:
- Providing vaccination programs for school-age children to prevent the spread of disease
- Launching education campaigns to decrease smoking and other behaviors with long-term adverse health consequences
- Supporting healthy school nutrition programs and other activities that promote healthy lifestyles
Action Steps and Resources
- Provide leadership for developing community-wide approaches to promoting adolescent health
- Conduct or provide data for community health assessments
- Focus on risk-reduction activities for adolescents
- Train staff on working with adolescents using the latest knowledge about what is effective
- Promote a positive, strengths-based view of adolescents
- Help young people take responsibility for their own health and promoting healthy communities
Partner with community organizations, schools, faith-based organizations, businesses, healthcare providers, local foundations, parents, grandparents, and teens to identify priorities for advancing adolescent health in the community, such as holding activities in parks and creating safe spaces for adolescents to gather and hang out. Leverage grant-making opportunities, training, and cross-sector programming to raise awareness across settings and increase attention to improving adolescent health.
Use assessments to identify and describe adolescent health needs, including measuring and tracking adolescent health outcomes. Assessments of local needs may have been completed in response to grant requirements, community-based initiatives, or by tax-exempt hospitals. Make sure adolescent health needs are included as assessments are conducted or updated. Use and refer to state and local health departments, which routinely collect and maintain data and have benchmarks for adolescent health trends. Utilize national objectives, such as Healthy People 2020,1 and data on adolescent health that are readily available to inform local assessments and plans.
Risk-reduction activities include approaches for smoking cessation, addressing substance abuse, mitigating sexual risks, treating mental health problems, identifying diabetes precursors, and reducing obesity. Ensure adolescents, parents, and those working with adolescents understand risky behaviors and the benefits of early and brief interventions. Identify resources that can help reduce risky behaviors, and refer as appropriate. Use evidence-based approaches when available and evaluate innovations to help grow the evidence base.
Provide training on cultural competency, trauma-informed care, working with vulnerable populations, positive youth development, and what’s appropriate for younger versus older adolescents. Encourage staff and others working with adolescents to use positive youth development strategies that support adolescents in their day-to-day lives. Specifically consider the needs of vulnerable adolescent populations, such as those living in poverty, who are homeless, or who are LGBT.
Participate in public awareness campaigns. Join ongoing community efforts to encourage and support better adolescent health outcomes. Look for ways to promote adolescent successes to foster more positive views of adolescents in society.
Encourage and teach older adolescents how to navigate the healthcare system. Involve adolescents of all ages in creating and monitoring community programs and activities for adolescents. Support youth engagement and leadership development, which have the potential for creating career pathways into health. Work with youth to ensure that strategies and services meet their needs and are youth-friendly. Pilot ideas and campaigns intended for youth with youth themselves to make sure the materials and concepts resonate.
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Content last reviewed on March 7, 2018