India and China together accounted for over a third (622 million – 35 per cent) of the global population of adolescents in 2016. However, while India’s adolescent population increased by 40 per cent, from 264 million in 1990 to 370 million in 2016, China’s adolescent population decreased by 28 per cent, from 352 million in 1990 to 253 million in 2016.
In the first study to track recent global changes to adolescent health in 195 countries, including India — to be published online in The Lancet on Wednesday — researchers estimate that compared with 1990, an additional 250 million adolescents in 2016 were living in countries where they faced a triple burden of infectious disease, non-communicable diseases including obesity, and injuries, including those sustained from violence.
In 2016, a total of 324 million, or almost one in five of the world’s adolescents were overweight or obese, a 120 per cent increase from 147.3 million in 1990. While an even higher proportion of US adolescents were found to be obese or overweight (44 per cent of young women and 45 per cent of young men), according to the report, both India and China saw a significant increase in the prevalence of overweight and obese adolescents. Young Chinese women experienced an annual increase of nearly 5 per cent while young Indian women experienced an annual increase of almost 9 per cent.
On the other hand, anaemia affected almost one in four adolescents globally (430 million, 24 per cent) in 2016, an increase of 20 per cent from 357 million in 1990. The prevalence of anaemia in young women in countries like India and Bhutan was over 50 per cent.
In 2016, worldwide, 136 million adolescents smoked daily (112 million males and 25 million females), a decrease of 38 million compared with 1990. In China in 2016, 20 per cent (26.8 million of 134.4 million) of young males were smoking daily compared with 1 per cent (1·4 million of 118·3 million) of young females.
The study found that prevalence of smoking was increasing in India (6.4 per cent annual increase for female adolescents and 0.4 per cent annual increase for male adolescents), although the prevalence in 2016 was relatively low, with 3 per cent (4.3 million of 175.1 million) of female adolescents and 8 per cent (14.8 million of 195·0 million) of male adolescents smoking daily.
The prevalence of binge drinking in 2016 among female adolescents in India was low at 1 per cent (0.5 million of 58.7 million) as against 8 per cent for female adolescents (2.7 million of 35.8 million) in China. For male adolescents, it was 3 per cent (2.0 million of 65.4 million) in India, as against 15 per cent (9.4 million of 63.6 million) in China.
Globally, the number of 15-24 year olds who are not in education, employment or any kind of training is estimated to be around three times higher for younger women adolescents (175 million) than young men (63 million). In India, the prevalence is over 15 times higher in young women than in young men (nearly 54 per cent compared to 3.5 per cent).
Professor George Patton from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and University of Melbourne, who in 2016 led The Lancet Commission on adolescent health and well-being, said despite improvements in various settings, the adolescent health challenge is greater today than it was 25 years ago.