Adolescents as Health Agents and Consumers: Results of A Pilot Study of the Health and Health-Related Behaviors of Adolescents Living in a High-Poverty Urban Neighborhood

Although there is a considerable literature on how adolescents make decisions which lead to risky behaviors (e.g., unprotected sex, drug use) and adversely affect the health and well-being of youth, little is known about the routine behaviors youth engage in which influence their health (e.g., having permanent teeth extracted, discontinuing antibiotics prematurely, delaying or going without treatment of subacute illnesses and minor injuries) and concomitantly the factors which influence these behaviors. In an effort to begin to fill this gap, we have undertaken a study of routine health behaviors and the factors which bear on them in adolescents from a high-poverty urban neighborhood. In this article, we present the results of the pilot phase of the study in which we documented the behavior of 10 adolescents from Camden, New Jersey, the fifth poorest city in the United States, and explored with them their perceptions of the decisions they made and the factors that gave rise to them. We found that participants had an insufficient understanding of their health problems and consequences of their health actions, problems in understanding and being understood by health care professionals, and reluctance to involve parents in routine health care decisions. The implications of these findings are discussed in relation to improving the health of vulnerable youth.