America is raising a generation of teenagers who are considerably less healthy than their parents were and are plagued by unwanted pregnancies, illegal drug use, suicide and violence, a panel of educators and doctors has warned.
"We are absolutely convinced that if we don't take action immediately, we're going to find ourselves with a failing economy and social unrest," said Roseann Bentley of the National Association of State Boards of Education and co-chairman of the 36-member panel that released the report.
The panel, whose members included former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, gathered from a variety of sources statistics that Bentley said the group found alarming. Among them:
1 million teenage girls -- nearly 1 in 10 -- get pregnant each year.
39 percent of high school seniors reported they had gotten drunk within the two previous weeks.
Alcohol-related accidents are the leading cause of death among teenagers.
The suicide rate for teens has doubled since 1968, making it the second leading cause of death among adolescents. Ten percent of teenage boys and 18 percent of girls have attempted suicide.
Arrests of adolescents are up 30-fold since 1950.
Homicide is the leading cause of death among minority youths ages 15 to 19.
Inattention to these problems has left thousands of young people doomed to failure, "which for many will be a precursor to an adult life of crime, unemployment or welfare dependency," the commission concluded in its report released last month.
The commission was formed by the National Association of State Boards of Education and the American Medical Association to make recommendations on the role of the school and community in improving adolescent health.
Its members included pollster George Gallup Jr., former Education Commissioner Ernest Boyer, Illinois Gov. James Thompson and California school chief Bill Honig.
The commission recommended that all teenagers be guaranteed access to health services, regardless of their ability to pay. Care should include psycho-social as well as medical services, the report said.
In addition, it said, communities should establish adolescent health centers in schools or other convenient locations, financed by local, state and federal funds as well as private money.
The commission did not estimate the cost for the services because "it would be impossible to define what every community needs," said M. Roy Schwarz, an official of the American Medical Association who was co-chairman of the commission with Bentley.
The proposed solutions, he said, would cost more than is being spent now. "We think we can find that money even in these dire economic times," he said.
The commission also called on schools to play a larger role in improving adolescents' health. It suggested "a new kind of health education -- a sophisticated multi-faceted program that goes light years beyond present lectures about personal hygiene." Such a program should include sex education, the panel said.