Food and Behaviour Research

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08 November 2014 - The Lancet - Young adults' health warrants greater attention and action

Life for young adults is already vastly different today to how it was even a generation ago in a rapidly changing global world.

Young adulthood (18—26 years) is usually regarded as a time of peak physical health and wellbeing. However, this perception is far from the truth for many young adults today. In fact, the dominant health pattern among young adults in the USA is surprisingly unhealthy, as highlighted in a new report released by the US Institute of Medicine and National Research Council last week.

Specific findings with respect to the declining health of this age group include high rates of sexually transmitted infections, and unhealthy behavioural patterns such as poor diet, smoking, binge drinking, and substance misuse. The onset of many serious mental health disorders often occurs in this period. Furthermore, today's young adults are the first generation to experience dramatically rising obesity rates in childhood and adolescence, and they are more vulnerable than previous generations to obesity-related health consequences such as diabetes in later life.

Young adulthood is a crucial and distinct period of development, which has profound implications throughout the entire life course. The changing patterns of health of young adults warrants further understanding of the uniqueness of this population, as well as urgent and collective responses engaging all relevant stakeholders—education and employment systems, civic organisations, public health and health-care systems, and, most importantly of all, young adults themselves.