Understanding health behaviour in adolescence- A review of influencing factors

Adolescence is a time of growth and change. During this period, young people mature against a backdrop of many influencing factors.  Examples include: 

¾   Physiological- puberty and changes within the brain, etc

¾   Psychological- development of identity, etc

¾   Social- parenting & family relationships, peer influences, etc

¾   Environmental- socioeconomic background, etc

SCPHRP and NHS Health Scotland have conducted a literature review to map what we know currently about how this broad range of factors influences health behaviour in adolescence.  The aim of this work is to produce an overall summary of evidence to inform health improvement policy and practice. 

The first phase of the review focused upon physiological changes occurring during adolescence.  Substantial changes occur within the body during this time, in parallel with changing environments and opportunities.  We sought to identify theories or hypotheses related to physiological development during adolescence & relationships with six behaviours: Diet & nutrition, physical activity, substance use, smoking, sexual behaviours and sleep. 

Our review identified 341 relevant papers, 181 related to brain physiology and 160 related to other aspects of physiological development (e.g. endocrine or musculoskeletal systems). The full report will be made available by NHS Health Scotland in the next month. 

Findings touch on areas such as: 

Risky decision making:

  • Contrary to popular belief, current evidence suggests that adolescents are not always more likely to choose the riskier option.
  • Support for the idea that adolescence is a time of differentiation in how an individual responds to risk.

Sleep patterns

  • The onset of puberty heralds later sleep times, while wake times are usually dictated by school hours
  • Sleep deprivation is common in adolescence as a result

Emotion control

  • The physiological underpinnings of regulation of emotion continue to mature in adolescence
  • Adolescents may respond faster and with less inhibition in emotionally charged situations- i.e. if they get ‘caught up in the moment’

In general, our findings emphasise the importance of adolescence as a unique period of opportunity for supporting healthy positive outcomes.

This phase of the review was the result of a collaboration between SCPHRP (Jan Pringle, Kathryn Mills, John McAteer, & Ruth Jepson), NHS Health Scotland (Emma Hogg, Neil Anand), and University College London (Sarah-Jayne Blakemore).  For further information please contact John McAteer or Jan Pringle (john.mcateer@ed.ac.uk; jan.pringle@ed.ac.uk). You can read more about the review here: https://systematicreviewsjournal. biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13643-015-0173-5

For further information about SCPHRP please visit http://www.scphrp.ac.uk/.