The Chief Public Health Officer’s Report on the State of Public Health in Canada, 2011

Youth and Young Adults — Life in Transition

Executive Summary

This is the Chief Public Health Officer’s fourth annual report on the state of public health in Canada. It examines the state of health and well-being of Canadian youth (aged 12 to 19 years) and young adults (aged 20 to 29 years). The report considers many health issues affecting this population such as physical and mental health, injury, sexual and reproductive health and substance use and abuse. By discussing these issues and how they are addressed, the report identifies priority areas for action to maintain healthy transitions of young Canadians into adulthood.Setting the Stage for Healthy Life Transitions

Over time and in part due to investments in public health and improving socio-economic conditions, Canada has set the stage for young Canadians to make a healthy and mature transition into adulthood. However, efforts to promote, improve and enhance healthy life transitions are an ongoing process and optimizing opportunities for good health and well-being must exist throughout the lifecourse. Given the diversity in the sequencing, timing and success of youth transitions into adulthood, this is even more apparent today. Young Canadians represent an increasingly diverse sub-population and the life transition patterns of youth and young adults have changed significantly over the last century. For most youth and young adults, this is still a time of positive life experiences and challenges as they progress and learn and develop into healthy adult roles and responsibilities. However, there are sub-populations of young Canadians that are more vulnerable to particular health issues and may face greater challenges, obstacles or interruptions that can affect their ability to transition into adulthood.

At every stage of life, health is directly or indirectly influenced by key determinants of health such as education and literacy, income and social status, employment and working conditions and social environments. The complex interaction between these key determinants of health can influence health outcomes – both positively and negatively – and, depending on the individual, can result in the individual beginning and progressing through life stages at different times and rates. For this reason, the life stages experienced by youth and young adults continue to be fluid and the boundaries between childhood and adolescence or between adolescence and adulthood vary from person to person. From a public health perspective, consideration of the lifecourse approach and the broader determinants of health can help to examine and evaluate how certain factors or experiences affect health outcomes and the ability for individuals to make healthy transitions from one life stage to the next.

A brief public health history of Canada’s experience in setting the stage for healthy life transitions shows that past efforts have positively influenced the health outcomes of youth and young adults. Programs, policies and legislation have been put into place to establish the foundation for optimal health and well-being throughout an individual’s life, including adolescence and young adulthood. It also points to some broad challenges that lie ahead. There are areas where Canada, as a society, can make a difference in the current and future health and well-being of our youth and young adults. These include education, employment, sexual and reproductive health, injuries, risk-taking behaviours and healthy living. In order to ensure that all young Canadians are making healthy transitions into adulthood, opportunities to identify and address these challenges and to promote healthy life transitions must exist.

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