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What do we mean by adolescents and young people?

Video step with Dr Jane Ferguson explaining how we define adolescents and young people and why their health is so important.

Adolescence is a crucial period of rapid development that encompasses significant changes in a person’s life, perhaps second only to that experienced in early childhood. In this step Dr Beverly Jane Ferguson (previously WHO Scientist within Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health) introduces how adolescents and young people are defined, what’s special about this period of life, and how adolescence impacts someone’s health in adulthood.


The World Health Organization (WHO) defines adolescence as the period in human growth and development that occurs after childhood and before adulthood. Specific definitions are as follows:

  • Adolescents: 10-19 years old
    (Young adolescents: 10-14 years old)
    (Older adolescents: 15-19 years old)
  • Youth: 15-24 years old
  • Young people: 10-24 years old

A time of change

The importance of the health of adolescents far exceeds immediate mortality and morbidity: habits formed and decisions made at this stage of life can have a profound effect on an individual’s health throughout the lifecycle. It’s therefore fundamental to understand what is happening to adolescents during their development when we think about how to prevent and respond to health problems.

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Improving the Health of Women, Children and Adolescents: from Evidence to Action

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