Health access and status of adolescents and young adults using youth employment and training programs in an urban environment

S Darius Tandon, Beth Marshall, Amy J Templeman, Freya L Sonenstein
Journal of Adolescent Health 2008, 43 (1): 30-7

PURPOSE: To describe the health status and access to healthcare of adolescents and young adults disconnected from traditional education and work settings. The health status of these disconnected youth is largely unknown, although it is suspected to be quite poor. Most information about the health of youth in the United States relies on school-based samples.

METHOD: In-person interviews with 1037 adolescents and young adults (aged 16-24 years) enrolled in an employment and training program in Baltimore were used to measure access to health services and health status in four domains: violent behavior, mental health, substance use, and reproductive health. Differences in healthcare access and health status by age and gender were examined. In addition, youth in the employment and training sample are compared with Baltimore youth in school and of comparable ages, as measured by the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System.

RESULTS: Nearly 50% of young adults in the employment and training program were found to lack health insurance, and about 20% reported a time when they needed medical care but did not receive it. Youth in the program exhibited notable health status concerns, often exceeding the risk prevalence of students in school. In particular, adolescents and young adults disconnected from traditional employment and work settings were more likely to be in physical fights, to smoke cigarettes, and to use marijuana than their in-school counterparts. In-school youth were more likely to have considered harming themselves and to have made a suicide plan in the last year.

CONCLUSIONS: Given high levels of health risk among youth disconnected from traditional education and work settings, adolescent health providers must increasingly pay attention to integrating health promotion and disease prevention strategies into youth employment and training programs, where sizable numbers of these youth can be reached.

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