Benefits of discussing teenage health concerns are small but encouraging

September 05, 2002

Teenagers welcome the opportunity to discuss health concerns with a health professional, but the effect on their actual lifestyles is modest, finds a study in this week's BMJ.

Researchers identified 1,516 teenagers (aged 14-15 years) from eight general practices in Hertfordshire, England. Teenagers in the intervention group received an appointment for a 20 minute consultation with the practice nurse to discuss health concerns and develop plans for healthier lifestyles. Teenagers in the control group received usual care. Both groups were asked to complete questionnaires at three months and 12 months.

Some 970 teenagers completed questionnaires; 23% smoked, 35% had been drunk in the previous three months, 64% considered they ate unhealthily, 39% took little exercise, and 36% had possible depression.

Three quarters (225) indicated at least one behaviour they would like to work on changing; the most common were diet (50%), exercise (36%), dealing with stress (23%), and smoking (13%).

At three months, marginally more teenagers in the intervention group than in the control group reported positive change in at least one of four areas of health related behaviour (diet, exercise, smoking, and drinking alcohol), but this did not persist at 12 months.

All teenagers but one were satisfied with their consultations. Most said they had felt able to talk about all the issues they wanted to, and 97% would recommend the service to a friend.

The results of the trial are somewhat disappointing in that benefits (even where significant) were small, say the authors. However, the results do provide an encouraging start, providing an opportunity to identify and tackle mental and physical health problems and encourage healthy lifestyles.

The intervention was well received and relatively cheap, suggesting a way for practices to create an atmosphere that welcomes teenagers, they conclude.
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BMJ

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