Most Teens Aren't Getting Preventive Health Care

MONDAY, March 30 (HealthDay News) -- Most American teens don't receive the appropriate amount of preventive health services, even though this type of care can establish good health behaviors and discourage damaging behaviors that can affect teens for the rest of their life, a new study finds.

The University of California, San Francisco, researchers analyzed data gathered from almost 8,500 adolescents, ages 10 to 17, who took part in the Medical Expenditure Survey, a national survey of families and medical providers. The UCSF team focused on several aspects of preventive care for adolescents, including the extent to which they'd received care in the past year, whether they received counseling about various health issues, and whether they had any time alone with their health-care provider.

The study found that only 38 percent of these young people had a preventive health visit in the past year.

"The results were pretty shocking to us. With so many adolescents not receiving the recommended preventive care, it is clear we need to develop new strategies that will help increase the delivery of services," study first author Dr. Charles Irwin, director of the Division of Adolescent Medicine at UCSF Children's Hospital, said in a university news release.

Irwin and colleagues also examined the extent to which doctors counseled teens or parents about six specific preventive health issues -- dental care, healthy eating, regular exercise, wearing a seat belt, wearing a bicycle helmet, and being exposed to secondhand smoke. Less than half of the teens who had a preventive health visit were counseled about at least one of these issues, and only 10 percent were counseled about all six.

"We really need to encourage physicians to make this type of counseling routine; otherwise, we might lose an opportunity to make a difference in these kids' lives," study senior author Sally Adams, a specialist in the Division of Adolescent Medicine at UCSF, said in the news release.

Family income and insurance status can affect the amount of preventive care received by teens -- 48 percent of those from high-income families had a preventive visit in the past year, compared with 36 from middle-income families and 32 percent of those from low-income families. Adolescents with private insurance were more likely to have received preventive care in the past year than those who were publicly insured or uninsured.

"Health-care professionals must continue advocating for programs that increase the number of adolescents who are insured, because insurance is key to gaining access to preventive care," Adams said.

The study was published online March 30 in the journal Pediatrics.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians offers advice about teen health.

SOURCE: University of California, San Francisco, news release, March 30, 2009

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