March 16, 2022

Adolescent health research

Kaiser Permanente research scientists have published almost 700 articles related to adolescent health since 2007. These articles have been cited more than 19,000 times.

Adolescence is widely considered to be a period of ideal physical health. However, the rapid physical, cognitive, and social changes teens experience can be associated with the onset of significant health problems.

Poor nutrition1 and inadequate exercise2 are common problems that contribute to obesity3 and place youths at risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other serious health problems.4

Mental health conditions are also a concern for adolescents. The symptoms of mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety, often begin during the teen years. Approximately 1 in 8 adolescents and young adults in the United States live with depression,5 and suicide is one of the most common causes of death in this age group.6;7 Anxiety disorders affect approximately one-third of teens,8 and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and eating disorders are common in adolescence.

Mental health disorders and other health issues may result from adverse childhood experiences (such as traumatic events, economic hardship, or parental separation or divorce), which affect 45% of American youths.10

More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic, with its associated physical and social isolation, lockdown measures, social unrest, and various economic and other stressors, has had an adverse effect on both the physical and mental well-being of adolescents. In many youth populations, rates of depression, anxiety, stress, suicidal ideation and behavior, and unhealthy substance use have increased,11 as has utilization of emergency and other medical services for mental health problems.12;13

KP publications related to adolescent health since 2007

KP publications related to adolescent health since 2007: 691 journal articles, 19,287 citations, 147 citations in PubMed guidelines

Moreover, as youth transition into the increased autonomy and independence of adulthood, they are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors.

Although use of alcohol, tobacco, and most illicit drugs among American teens has declined in recent years, marijuana use has increased among 10th graders, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse has reported a substantial increase in the use of tobacco and marijuana vaping products.14 Moreover, recent surveys suggest that adolescents’ perceptions of the risks of marijuana use have declined steeply.14

High-risk sexual behavior among teens also remains common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30% of U.S. high school students in 2017 reported having had sexual intercourse in the prior 3 months. Of these, nearly half had not used a condom, and nearly 20% had used drugs or alcohol prior to intercourse.15 About 7% of students reported having been forced to have intercourse against their will.15 As a consequence of risky sexual behavior, over 200,000 infants were born to teen mothers in 2016,16 and half of new cases of sexually transmitted infections (including 21% of new HIV diagnoses17) occur in adolescents and young adults.18

Finally, accidental deaths and injuries, primarily associated with driving, cycling, and walking,19 represent the leading cause of death among teens.20

Adolescent health is an active area of study for Kaiser Permanente Research. Scientists across the organization have used our rich, comprehensive, longitudinal data to advance knowledge in the areas of understanding risk, improving patient outcomes, and translating research findings into policy and practice. We have published nearly 700 articles related to adolescent health since 2007; together, these articles have been cited more than 19,000 times.

These articles are the product of observational studies, randomized controlled trials, meta-analyses, and other studies led by Kaiser Permanente scientists. Our unique environment — a fully integrated care and coverage model in which our research scientists, clinicians, medical groups, and health plan leaders collaborate — lets us contribute generalizable knowledge on adolescent health and many other research topics.


  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services HRaSA, Maternal and Child Health Bureau,. Child Health USA 2014. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2014.
  2. Kann L, McManus T, Harris WA, et al. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance — United States, 2015. MMWR Surveill Summ. 2016;65(6):1-174.
  3. Hales CM, Carroll MD, Fryar CD, Ogden CL. Prevalence of Obesity Among Adults and Youth: United States, 2015-2016. NCHS Data Brief. 2017 (288):1-8.
  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2008.
  5. Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-being, 2017: Adolescent Depression. 2017.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. QuickStats: Death Rates for Motor Vehicle Traffic Injury,* Suicide  (dagger) and Homicide (section sign) Among Children and Adolescents aged 10-14 Years - United States, 1999-2014. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2016;65(43):1203.
  7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Suicidal Behavior. 2017.
  8. Merikangas KR, He JP, Burstein M, et al. Lifetime prevalence of mental disorders in U.S. adolescents: results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication — Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2010;49(10):980-989.
  9. Danielson ML, Bitsko RH, Ghandour RM, et al. Prevalence of Parent-Reported ADHD Diagnosis and Associated Treatment Among U.S. Children and Adolescents, 2016. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. 2018;47(2):199-212.
  10. Sacks V, Murphey D. The prevalence of adverse childhood experiences, nationally, by state, and by race or ethnicity. Bethesda, MD: Child Trends;2018.
  11. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration;2021.
  12. Yard E, Radhakrishnan L, Ballesteros MF, et al. Emergency Department Visits for Suspected Suicide Attempts Among Persons Aged 12-25 Years Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic - United States, January 2019- May 2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2021;70(24):888-894.
  13. 13. Ridout KK, Alavi M, Ridout SJ, et al. Emergency Department Encounters Among Youth With Suicidal Thoughts or Behaviors During the COVID-19 Pandemic. JAMA Psychiatry. 2021.
  14. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Monitoring the Future Survey: High School and Youth Trends. 2018.
  15. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance — United States, 2017. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Surveillance Summary. 2018;67(SS-8).
  16. Martin JA, Hamilton BE, Osterman MJK, et al. Births: Final Data for 2016. Natl Vital Stat Rep. 2018;67(1):1-55.
  17. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diagnoses of HIV Infection in the United States and Dependent Areas, 2017. 2017.
  18. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2016. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services;2017.
  19. Sleet DA, Ballesteros MF, Borse NN. A review of unintentional injuries in adolescents. Annu Rev Public Health. 2010;31:195-212 194 p following 212.
  20. Minino A. Mortality among teenagers aged 12-19 years: United States, 1999-2006. NCHS Data Brief. 2010(37):1-8.