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Young people's disabilities due in large part to psychiatric disorders, study finds

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June 07, 2011|By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times / for the Booster Shots blog
  • Girls lift weights at Greg Isaacs 360 in Brentwood. The classes for teens combine strength training, cardiovascular workouts and abdominal exercises.
Girls lift weights at Greg Isaacs 360 in Brentwood. The classes for teens… (Lori Shepler / Los Angeles…)

For young people all over the world, the most prevalent causes of disability are in the mind. For youth, neuropsychiatric disorders including major depression and alcohol use comprise 45% of the disability burden among young people from 10 to 24 years old, according to a study published online Monday in the Lancet. That's about four times as much as that caused by unintentional injuries (12%) and infectious and parasitic diseases (10%).

The study -- the first of its kind to provide a comprehensive look at the young people's global health -- surveyed data from the World Health Organization's 2004 Global Burden of Disease report and looked at men and women in different age groups and whether they were in richer or poorer countries. They added up the lost years of healthy living due to a disability or death, and found that young people were responsible for 15.5% of the total number of years lost for all age groups -- and that 93.4% of those lost years were in low-income and middle-income countries.

They also found that for youth, many of those lost years were due to psychiatric conditions rather than to disease or injury. But out of those lost years due to incidents rather than conditions, they said, the main risk factors for 10-to-24-year-olds were alcohol (accounting for 7% of the lost healthy years), unsafe sex (4%), and iron deficiency (3%), among others. 

Young people's health tends to be neglected when talking about global public health issues because they're perceived as healthy, the authors point out. But catching problems earlier in life can improve longevity and quality of life over the long term.

"Although risk factors and the lifestyles that young people adopt might not affect their health during this period, they can have a substantial effect in later life and can potentially affect the health of future generations," the authors write. "For example, high patterns of physical activity that are adopted during youth and sustained thereafter are thought to have protective effects against the onset of cardiovascular diseases and Type 2 diabetes."

For more information, check out the National Institute of Mental Health's web page.

Follow me on Twitter @LAT_aminakhan.

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