Making a World of Difference for Teens

Teens living in poverty feel vulnerable and fear violence in their homes, schools, and communities no matter where in the world they happen to reside, according to an adolescent health study presented November 13 at the International Conference on Family Planning.

By gaining new insights into teenagers’ often-mysterious worlds, researchers and health care providers can offer better services to this population, especially those in low- resource areas, according to Robert Blum, MD, PhD, MPH, William H. Gates Sr. Chair and Professor of Population, Family, and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Blum offered a preview of  WAVE (Wellbeing of Adolescents in Vulnerable Environments), an investigation of adolescent perspectives on health and how teens tap into health information in six different cities across the globe: Baltimore, USA; Johannesburg, South Africa; Ibadan, Nigeria; New Delhi, India; Shanghai, China; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

A collaboration between Johns Hopkins and AstraZeneca, the study is taking place in two stages, Blum explained. In an initial qualitative component, researchers are gathering information about health issues that teens identify as most important and how their health needs are being served from three sources: focus groups of teens in these cities; a photo project that supplied some teens with cameras to capture images of health and wellbeing; and key informants from youth organizations.

For the qualitative component, researchers are surveying hundreds of teens at each site about issues that affect their lives. The findings will serve to help policy makers and program planners improve the health of young people in these communities.

“The experience of poverty as seen through the eyes of young people is remarkably similar,” Blum said. “We see this in Baltimore, and we see it in Johannesburg.”—Christen Brownlee