Unsafe sex has become the fastest-growing risk factor for ill health in both males and females aged 15-19 years old, rising from 13th place in 1990 to second place in 2013.
“This should serve as a wake-up call for major new investment for the 1.8 billion adolescents worldwide - the largest generation in history - 89 per cent of whom live in developing countries,” said the authors of The Lancet commission report on adolescent health and well-being that was launched in London.
Their number is set to rise to about two billion by 2032.
"From a life-course perspective, adolescents stand at the crossroads of the major challenges to global health: HIV/AIDS, intention and unintentional injuries, sexual and reproductive health, and chronic disease," said John Santelli from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in the U.S.
Columbia University was one of four global academic institutions that led the Lancet commission.
"Investments in adolescent health have the potential to alter the future course of global health," Santelli noted.
Two-thirds of young people are growing up in countries where preventable and treatable health problems like HIV/AIDS, early pregnancy, unsafe sex, depression, injury, and violence are an ongoing threat to their health and wellbeing. Adolescents also face new challenges, including rising levels of obesity and mental health disorders, high unemployment, and the risk of radicalisation, the report said.
The single best investment we can make is guaranteeing access to free, quality secondary education, according to the report. Every year of education beyond age 12 is associated with fewer adolescent deaths for boys and girls, the report noted.
(With agency inputs)