Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario

Health Status of Adolescents

Issues central to adolescent health include the following:

Alcohol and Drug Use

  • The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health conducted annual surveys in 2009 of Ontario students in grades 7 through 12 related to alcohol and drug use. Ten-year trends in alcohol use among the students surveyed identified a decrease from 66.0% in 1999 to 58.2% in 2009 Risky drinking behaviours of youth aged 12 to 19 years has increased significantly over the 10-year period.

Tobacco Use

  • Tobacco use has declined significantly for youths aged 15 to 19 years, but remains high among those aged 20 to 24 years.


  • The epidemic of overweight and obesity has become a major issue for 2- to 17-year-old Canadians. Youth in low-income families, youth of ethnicity, and youth who live in urban neighbourhoods are at higher risk of obesity. Aboriginal children are also at higher risk for obesity and being overweight.

Tobacco Use

  • Tobacco use has declined significantly for youths aged 15 to 19 years, but remains high among those aged 20 to 24 years.

Chronic Diseases

  • Approximately one-third of all children between ages 12 and 14 reported having a chronic condition.  Chronic conditions include allergies, asthma, emotional disorders, neurological disorders and mobility disabilities.
  • Youth who have chronic conditions generally experience some form of limitations in activity and are therefore less active.
  • Youth who have chronic conditions are more likely to smoke cigarettes, consume alcohol, and/or be involved in physical fights.
  • A Health Canada report (2007) noted that 1,300 children and youth in Canada develop cancer ever year, 16% suffer from asthma; moreover, a staggering 33% of Canadian children born today will develop diabetes.

Mental Health and Well-being

  • According to a mental health and well-being survey conducted in 2007 by the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS), the majority of students rated their health as excellent or very good.  However, a significant minority reported impaired well-being or functioning:
    • One-third of students reported elevated psychological distress, and being bullied at school.
    • One in five students reported visiting a mental health professional and setting something on fire.
    • One in eight students reported poor personal health, delinquent behaviour and concern about personal safety at school.
    • Eighty percent of all psychiatric disorders emerge in adolescence and are the single most common illness that commence in the adolescent age group.


  • Suicide is a leading cause of death for Canadian adolescents, with attempted suicide outnumbering completed suicide four to one. This issue is of particular concern in First Nations adolescents, where the number of suicide deaths is approximately six higher than the general adolescent population

Eating Disorders

  • Another mental health issue affecting the adolescent population is eating disorders, which can lead to serious physical and mental health issues. According to a 2002 survey, 1.5% of Canadian women aged 15 to 24 years had an eating disorder

Sexual Practices and STIs

  • Engaging in sexual intercourse at a young age, having multiple partners and having unprotected sex put youth at risk for STIs and unwanted pregnancy.
  • Condom usage increased overall between 2003 and 2005, with use more common among youth 15 to 17 years of age than those 18 to 19 years of age.
  • Approximately one-third of the 15- to 24-year-olds who had had sexual intercourse in the past year had done so with more than one partner.
  • While condom use can reduce the likelihood of acquiring an STI, the incidence of some STIs has risen considerably.

Teenage Pregnancy

  • Teenage pregnancy continues to persist in our society, negatively affecting the health and well-being of many girls.
  • Infants born to teenagers are more apt to experience adverse birth outcomes and die during their first year of life than are infants born to older women.
  • Education and employment opportunities of teen mothers are often affected by their pregnancy, leading to lowered income.

Exposure to Violence

  • The 2007 OSDUHS found that 30% of Ontario students reported being bullied at school, while 25% reported that they had bullied others.
  • Approximately 40% of women who reported spousal abuse identified that their children had heard or seen the occurrence of abuse and three to five students in every classroom have witnessed domestic violence.


  • Many situations of assault are not reported to police.
  • The rate of police-reported assaults in 2007 are highest for youth aged 12 to 17 years, with sexual assault occurring at the rate of 295 per 100,000 population and physical assault at the rate of 1333 per 100,000.
  • The majority of assaults were committed by an acquaintance (55%) or family member (30%).
Women and Children
Enhancing Healthy Adolescent Development
Point of Care Resources