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Journal Article -- February 2002  

Symposium on Adolescent Health  

By Surendra K. Varma, MD
Guest Editor

The adolescent population in this country is growing, and we are becoming aware that health care problems in this population are not well attended to. Some adolescents feel uneasy seeking health care from pediatricians; some feel that they do not fit in with adults and have difficulty in dealing with family physicians or internists. However, primary care physicians (including pediatricians, family physicians, and internists) must make every effort to make adolescents comfortable so that they can establish a good rapport with them. Doing so will ensure that the adolescent population receives good health care.

Health care problems are unique in this age group. Adolescents are not well informed about disease processes or the changes taking place in their bodies. Good health education, which can be accomplished by the primary care physician with the help of the public school system, is important.

In this issue, we present some important health issues of the adolescent population. We are fortunate in Texas to have a number of adolescent medicine experts of national reputation.

The current issues of adolescent substance use and abuse, which are prevalent in Texas, are discussed by Dr. Schydlower. It is extremely important for physicians and health care personnel to address substance abuse problems in the adolescent population, which is a very vulnerable age group. Of course, parents and other family members play a significant role. Dr. Schydlower takes a look at the role of health care professionals and family members and explains which adolescents are at more risk for this problem.

Dr. Risser discusses pelvic inflammatory disease in adolescents . Contrary to wishful thinking, it is still a very significant, ongoing problem and one that must not be overlooked. Pelvic inflammatory disease is a public health issue that must be addressed vigorously on a continual basis.

Dr. Gomez takes a look at the use of performance-enhancing substances by adolescent athletes. We are aware of the use of anabolic steroids and creatine. Adolescents often look to professional athletes as their role models; if some of them use these substances, their influence over the adolescent may be hard to offset by the primary care physician. Dr. Gomez addresses the role of physicians who provide health care to adolescents and how physicians must address and try to prevent the use of these substances in young athletes.

Dr. Bourgeois addresses the emergence of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus in adolescents. Lately, we have seen that the populations at risk are Hispanics, African Americans, and Native Americans. Factors that contribute to the increase in diabetes in adolescents include the lack of participation in physical activities (and more involvement in sedentary activities such as playing video games and spending time on computers) and the eating habits of adolescents, who take advantage of the explosion of the fast food industry by eating morning and evening meals on the run. It is extremely important that we address the issues of diet and physical activity to help prevent the development of non-insulin-dependant diabetes mellitus in adolescents in an epidemic fashion.

Dr. Hergenroeder addresses the transition into adulthood for children and youth with special health care needs. He defines transition as "a purposeful movement of adolescents and young adults with chronic conditions from child-centered to adult-centered care."

I sincerely hope these articles will be helpful to our readers. I am grateful to each author for taking time to address the issues efficiently and effectively.

Dr Varma, University Distinguished Professor and vice chair of pediatrics, professor of physiology and health services research, and residency program director, Department of Pediatrics, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center at Lubbock, 3601 4th St, Lubbock, TX 79430.  

For Web sites dealing with adolescent health issues, see MedBytes.

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