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Graduating to Better Health

Adolescent health information to start the new school year right

It seemed so much simpler when they were younger. Whether you’re sending them back to high school or off to college, there seem to be so many things to consider for the adolescent in your life.

“There are many issues that adolescents face regarding health and wellness, which can seem daunting at times,” says Beth Volin, MD, medical director of the Rush Pediatric Primary Care and division director of general pediatrics at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

“When we see adolescents for a typical visit, we find out how they’re doing as a whole along with health issues,” says Volin. “We’ll ask about issues they may be dealing with, such as immediate health issues, school problems, issues with body weight or risky behaviors, like alcohol use.”

“We observe the same patient-physician confidentiality with an adolescent that any doctor would with an older patient,” say Volin. “So the patient is free to really talk to us about what’s bothering him or her. Understanding that our conversation will be confidential can really help a person open up.”

As they get older there are fewer routine doctor’s visits for adolescents. Therefore, there are fewer opportunities for doctors to check in with an adolescent patient. “The schools have helped us out with the required ninth-grade physical,” says Volin. “But we also use any visit, such as when an adolescent comes in with suspected strep throat, to see how a patient is doing physically and mentally, if they’re up to date with their vaccines, etc.”


In fact, the recommendations for vaccinations have changed quite a bit in the last couple of years,” says Volin.

  • Meningococcal vaccine. The CDC recommends that all students entering middle school and high school and all college freshmen living in dormitories receive the new meningococcal vaccine. This vaccine protects against meningitis.
  • Tetanus, diphtheria and pertusis booster. “There’s a brand new tetanus booster that children 11 and older should receive,” Volin says. “The booster is called Tdap and includes protection for tetanus, diphtheria and something new, a booster for pertusis. This will replace the DT booster that adults used to get.”
  • Hepatitis A vaccine. “There’s also a new recommendation that all children, not just infants, receive the hepatitis A vaccination,” says Volin.
  • HPV vaccine. “In the next three to six months we should have some solid recommendations for vaccinating young women for the human papilloma virus or HPV,” says Volin. HPV infection has been linked to cervical cancer.

Body Image

How adolescents feel about their appearance can have a big impact on self esteem. It’s important to help adolescents appreciate themselves as they look now and to understand that there are so many other things about them that are more valuable than appearance, like intelligence, compassion, honesty and strength of character.

Weight Issues

Weight issues go hand in hand with body image. Maintaining a healthy weight is not always easy, especially as adolescents start to make their own food choices. According to the National Institutes of Health, about 17 percent of American children between the ages of two and 19 are overweight.

“We try to educate our patients about the health risks from being overweight,” says Volin. “They often don’t realize that they are putting themselves at increased risk for diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

“We have a great nutritionist on staff who helps our patients understand the importance of eating more healthfully,” Volin adds.

One way you can help, as a concerned adult, is to model the correct behavior and explain the importance of maintaining healthy weight (proportional to one’s height) through consistent healthy eating with an awareness of the correct portion size and daily requirements and regular physical activity.

“Making it a family affair can really make a difference for the success of a weight loss and healthy eating program,” says Volin.


If your child is in middle school or high school, make sure that you communicate with the school health administrator. You’ll also want to make all of your child’s friends aware. They may be more likely to be close by when he or she has an attack. If your child is in college, let his or her roommate(s) and resident advisors know about your child’s condition.

Mental Health

Adolescence can be a stressful time. Young adults may feel overwhelmed by pressures at school, from their families and peer relationships. They may need extra help. Be there for them, take time to listen and be aware that they may reach a point where they need professional help. Also, be aware that any talk of hurting themselves or others should be taken very seriously. Your child may try to minimize what he or she has said, but you’ll want to seek the help of professional, nonetheless.

“We use every office visit as an opportunity to check in with how our patients are doing mentally,” says Volin. “We evaluate them for depression and other mental health disorders. We view the patient holistically.”

There are also many safety issues that adolescents face. Read “Keeping Your Adolescent Safe” for more information.

More Information at Your Fingertips:
  • For more information about pediatric services at Rush visit our Rush Children’s Hospital home page.
  • Looking for information on other health topics? Visit our Health Information home page.
  • Looking for a doctor? Call toll free: 888 352-RUSH (7874)

Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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