Current status + progress
Non-communicable diseases are critically important for adolescents now and in the future
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), also known as chronic diseases, are non-transmissible diseases of often long duration. Examples of NCDs include mental health conditions, stroke, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung disease. Globally, it is estimated that one in two disability-affected life years and one in five deaths among adolescents are caused by NCDs. As NCDs are driven primarily by behaviors that often start during childhood and adolescence including physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, tobacco use and harmful use of alcohol, they have the potential to impact child and adolescent health and bring about negative health outcomes in adulthood. Estimates suggest that approximately 70 per cent of the premature deaths that occur among adults stem from health-related behaviors that originate in childhood and adolescence.
A large share of the burden of non-communicable diseases among adolescents is due to mental health conditions
Although NCDs are often associated with those in older age groups, they also have a substantial impact on children and adolescents. In 2019, NCDs were estimated to cause over half of the disability-affected life years (DALYs) among adolescents. DALYs, defined as the sum of the years of productive life lost due to disability and the years of potential life lost due to premature mortality, help to show the burden of disease borne by individuals beyond mortality.
Most of the NCD disability burden among adolescents is due to mental health conditions. Among boys aged 10-14, for example, conduct disorders are within the top five causes of DALYs globally. Among girls in this same age group, anxiety disorders and migraines are within the top causes of DALYs globally. Depressive disorders are the top cause of NCD-related disability among adolescents 15-19 years old and they represent a greater proportion of all DALYs in girls over boys in this age group.
Non-communicable diseases and injuries are among the top causes of death of adolescents
NCDs cause a substantial proportion of deaths among adolescents: In 2019, approximately 20 per cent of the deaths among those aged 10-19 were caused by NCDs. Like the NCD disability burden, however, there are key variations within these data by factors including age group and sex. NCDs cause about one in four deaths globally among girls aged 10-14, as compared to about one in five among boys in this same age group. NCDs cause similar proportions of deaths among adolescents aged 15-19, due in large part to liver cirrhosis, drug use disorders and other conditions.
Injuries, meanwhile, cause the most deaths among adolescents globally. For adolescents aged 15-19, three of the four top causes of death are all injury types: road injuries, interpersonal violence and self-harm. For those aged 10-14, road injuries, drowning and self-harm rank second, fourth and tenth, respectively, among the top causes of death. Adolescent deaths due to injuries are higher in low- and middle-income countries as compared to high-income countries. Adolescent deaths due to injury are highest in the Western and Central Africa region (18 deaths per 100,000 population) and lowest in the Western Europe region (3 deaths per 100,000 population).
Data on the burden of disease and risk factors are necessary to guide national policies and programmes for adolescents
With the growing burden of NCDs among adolescents, data hold more potential now than ever before to shape health policies, plans and programmes for adolescent health and are at the heart of advocacy measures for community engagement, coalition building and public awareness. Data can be useful in understanding how the availability of policies and laws targeting NCD-related risk factors, their prevalence rates as well as disease burden differ within and across countries. Regional and country level differences in NCD burden and illness among adolescents are also critical, as they can guide relevant stakeholders towards identifying key priorities for research and practice. In addition, having data that can be disaggregated by different factors including sex and age can enable relevant stakeholders to better understand the nuances in how NCDs shape adolescent health.
It is important to have reliable sources of information that can guide these national, regional and global discussions and promote evidence-driven decision making to shape programmes, policies and plans. Being able to reliably track different NCD risk factors and prevalence rates at different levels among adolescents can help reframe current policy and practice that represent critical determinants of NCD burden and promote multisectoral action that utilizes diverse delivery mechanisms.
UNICEF’s newly updated Adolescent Data Health Dashboards, with a focus on NCDs, present data and estimates on disease burden
The Adolescent Data Health Dashboards allow users to access and visualize comprehensive global, regional- and country-level data along four main categories: 1) Context, including key demographic indicators and contextual factors that affect adolescents in the region, national policies strategies and plans on key health indicators, 2) Burden of Disease, including mortality and morbidity data disaggregated by age and gender for adolescents in each region and 3) Risk Factors, including NCD risk factors and social determinants among adolescents and 4) A Guide that provides indicator definitions and further information on data sources.
Understanding sex and age disaggregated data on NCD prevalence, burden of disease, risk factors and social determinants among adolescents can guide regions and countries toward evidence-driven targeted interventions in line with the Sustainable Development Goal Agenda. The dashboards bring together information on key indicators to support stakeholders within and across regions and countries to identify trends so that resources and attention can be effectively diverted to promote adolescent health and make sure that no one is left behind.
Access the Adolescent Data Health Dashboards here:
- Adolescent Data Health Dashboard at the global and regional levels
- Adolescent Data Health Dashboard at the country level
Akseer N, Mehta S, Wigle J, Chera R, Brickman ZJ, Al-Gashm S, Sorichetti B, Vandermorris A, Hipgrave DB, Schwalbe N, Bhutta ZA. Non-communicable diseases among adolescents: current status, determinants, interventions and policies. BMC public health. 2020.
WHO, Noncommunicable Diseases, WHO, Geneva, 2018.
WHO, Major NCDs and their risk factors, WHO, Geneva, 2018.
Plan International UK, Noncommunicable Disease Prevention and Adolescents, UK, 2017.
UNICEF, Data for Children: Strategic Framework, UNICEF, New York, 2017