- Researchers describe how the brain is not fully developed until the age of 24
- Britain among the worst high-income countries for adolescent health behaviour
By Amy Oliver
PUBLISHED: 03:31 EST, 25 April 2012 | UPDATED: 06:30 EST, 25 April 2012
Getting plastered every Saturday night before heading back to a respectable office job on Monday morning has become the norm for a lot of young adults in Britain.
Now scientists have discovered a possible reason for such childish behaviour – people don’t become true adults until they’re 24.
Scientists believed adolescence started with the onset of puberty and finished in the late teens. But in a series on adolescent health published in The Lancet today, researchers describe how the brain is not fully developed until the age of 24.
People can legally smoke and have sex at 16, drive at 17, drink alcohol, vote and are deemed adults at 18 in Britain.
But the research suggests the adolescent brain is ill-equipped to deal with the effects of drinking and drug-taking and less able to assess risk.
As a result more adolescents die from injury caused by accidents where, often unnecessary or excessive risks were taken, than anything else, scientists found.
The study found that today’s 1.8 billion adolescents were more exposed to harmful alcohol consumption, sexually transmitted diseases, and other risks than in the past, and face other new threats, including: sexting, cyberbullying, internet addiction and the so-called ‘social norms’ of suicide, self-harm and school shootings.
When it came to adolescent health behaviour, British teenagers were among the worst in the world.
England ranked fourth out of 40 high-income countries for the number of 13-year-olds who had been drunk, the study found. Wales came fifth and Scotland was eighth. One in five adolescents was found to binge drink on a weekly basis in the same high-income countries.
The UK also ranked high in the number of adolescents aged 13-15 who had indulged in sexual activity, coming third behind Denmark and Iceland in girls.
The outlook for an 18-year-old today is wildly different to one 50 years ago. Then a large number of people were married and had started having children.
Yet despite the sweeping changes to adolescence and the knowledge that health in adolescence weighs heavy on future health, this period has been neglected in scientific and medical research.
Writing in The Lancet, Professor George Patton, from the University of Melbourne, Australia, and colleagues said: ‘For the largest generation in the world’s history, the available global profile of youth health is worrying.’
In an editorial The Lancet identifies four areas to improve adolescents’ lives: the international comparisons of their behaviour, goals for their healthy development, preventive measures to reduce obesity, alcohol and drug abuse, and monitoring of their progress.
It adds: ‘Young people are our future assets. They provide energy, innovation, productivity and progress. Adolescent health (should be]) an equal concern alongside existing health priorities in the world.’