Investing in Our Future
By Mike R. Fraser, PhD
I recently had the chance to be part of a meeting in North Dakota with a group of people who really, really care about adolescent health. They were passionate. They were dedicated. They knew where adolescents were coming from – a few were parents of teenage children and they used examples from their own lives to inform our conversation. The group was excited, the work we were doing was innovative and brought together representatives from health, education, and other groups to think through what a comprehensive statewide approach to adolescent sexual health could look like for their population of young people. I left the meeting energized and impressed with the commitment and passion that these state leaders brought to their work. Thinking back on the meeting now, the words opportunity, commitment, leadership, excitement, science-based, and improved health all come to mind.
This issue of Pulse also brings to mind these words. The programs and resources herein are all about improving adolescent health and addressing teen pregnancy prevention. We have tremendous opportunities – new federal investments in evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention are included in this year’s Federal Budget (The President’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative, or TPP) and in health reform legislation (Personal Responsibility and Education Program, or PREP) and funding for abstinence-only programs was restored. We also have commitment and leadership in a newly formed Office of Adolescent Health within the Department of Health and Human Services. Working with this Office and its partners across government, AMCHP and states can expect to see a holistic approach to adolescents which includes healthy relationships, adolescent development, financial literacy, educational and career success, and healthy life skills – not just preventing teen risk-taking behaviors.
What is so exciting about adolescent health is the opportunity to improve lifelong health by investing in young people. As MCH moves to embrace a “life course” perspective, a focus on adolescents and improving teenagers’ health becomes a critical piece of our work. Healthy teens have better chances to grow into healthy adults. The life skills we can teach to our teens will pay dividends in better future health outcomes but also future social and economic outcomes. AMCHP has taken a comprehensive, systems-thinking approach to adolescent health that moves beyond the plumbing lessons that frequently comprise the “adolescent health program.” Our approach moves toward positive youth development and healthy decision making in all aspects of a teenager’s life, not just their sexual health. The articles and resources in this issue represent some of our current thinking and the “state-of-the-states” as we develop our adolescent health programs on your behalf.
Thinking back to that meeting in North Dakota, I am struck by how many opportunities we have to truly invest in adolescent health. Let’s braid those opportunities with our passion, commitment, and evidence-base to truly make a difference in the lives of our nation’s teens, their friends, and their families.