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Vol. LIX, No. 16
August 10, 2007

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ORWH Seminar Examines Health of Adolescent Girls

Welcoming speakers and attendees to the recent seminar "The Health of Girls and Women Across the Lifespan: Adolescents" held in Lipsett Amphitheater, Dr. Vivian Pinn, director of NIH's Office of Research on Women's Health, emphasized the importance of discussing the dramatic developmental and physical changes that occur in young women throughout adolescence that create unique vulnerabilities for social, emotional and intellectual functioning.

Problems with adolescent substance abuse are a major concern for health care providers and families. "Drug abuse and drug addiction hit peak levels in adolescence and can be classified as a brain development disorder," said Dr. Donald Vereen of NIDA in his presentation on addiction and adolescents. "The peak for use of tobacco, marijuana and alcohol is prior to age 20," he warned. This has serious health consequences since drug abuse can impede the brain's developing and molding/repair areas leading to significant toxic changes in the brain.

Dr. Ronald Dahl of the University of Pittsburgh presented work on sleep behaviors in adolescents and described how sleep is "a perfect model of an adolescent health paradox." While the body's physical need for sleep is increasing rapidly during this time, the social and psychological environment of an adolescent creates the desire for risk-taking, sensation-seeking and intense sexual and romantic feelings. This combination of lack of sleep during a time when more sleep is needed for cognitive and social development evolves into a negative spiral of tiredness, lack of attention, decline in learning, negativity and increased of caffeine and other stimulants.

Both Dr. Russell Pate of the University of South Carolina and Dr. Dianna Neumark-Sztainer of the University of Minnesota focused on the need for healthier lifestyles that include increased physical activity in children and youth. Pate emphasized the need to encourage girls in middle school to develop and master new physical skills that can lead to a lifetime of consistent, healthy activity. Neumark-Sztainer spoke about the eating trends of adolescents who "functioning in a thin-oriented society need avoid unhealthy dieting behavior and stress more activity and healthier lifestyles. Unhealthy dieting can lead to a triple stigmatization involving race, lower socio-economic status and obesity," she said.

Dr. Christine Bachrach of NICHD presented an update on the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (ADD Health Research Project), a study covering a broad spectrum of racial and ethnic diversity. Some findings highlighted that peer relationships among adolescents can have positive influences on adolescents in school. Researchers also saw a link between obesity and school performance; after high school the more obese were less likely to enter college. The next wave of studies will examine the roles of behavior in pre-disease pathways. - NIH Record Icon

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