In theory, teenagers should be some of the healthiest people on the planet. They’ve made it through the perils of childhood sicknesses and they’ve not yet reached the point of aging, where the wear and tear of living take their toll.
But adolescents aged 10 to 19 die at rates of up to 3,000 per day, mostly in Southeast Asia and Africa, according to the World Health Organization. That adds up to 1.2 million a year, all from largely preventable causes.
Traffic accidents are the main killer and the vast majority of these deaths occurred among young men, according to a May 16 WHO report. Presumably, this is because men take more risks on the road, whether they’re on foot, bicycles, motorcycles, or in cars.
Behind vehicular accidents, the second leading cause of death among male teens was physical violence.
Men are typically more violent than women. Some psychologists think that this is because the idea of manhood (paywall) is a status that must be earned physically. Others have postulated that boys who have fewer friendships and feel isolated are more likely to be physically aggressive with others. The report doesn’t definitively say that young men are fighting one another; such deaths could be occurring due to domestic violence with older men in households. Either way, physical fights are turning fatal for teenaged boys.
The preventable deaths among young women are largely related to access to healthcare and sanitation. In 2015, lower-respiratory infections like pneumonia surpassed suicide as the leading killer among teenage girls from 2013. Women who contract these infections likely do so by inhaling fumes from air pollution or indoor cooking. Women also are more likely to die from diseases like cholera, which is spread through contaminated water, and complications during childbirth.
Notably, self-harm still kills thousands of young men and women, and the report found that teens, especially those aged 15 to 19, were more susceptible to anxiety and depression. In addition to the violence teenage boys encounter, these WHO stats highlight the need for better mental health care for young adults in general.
“Shifting hormones, as well as adolescents’ shifting roles and responsibilities in society, can cause a lot of stress, strain and anxiety,” Kate Strong, an epidemiologist at the WHO and lead author of the report, told NPR. “The more information we have about mental health for adolescents, parents and teachers, the better. They need to know that help is available and where they can get that help.”