Adolescent Health in Texas

DSHS takes a universal look at adolescent health and well-being. Instead of tackling risky behaviors alone, Adolescent Health focuses on:

  • the overlap between risky behaviors,
  • the common causes,
  • the strengths that a youth has,
  • the adults who support youth, and,
  • successful activities.  

Partners include:

  • State agencies
  • families
  • schools
  • churches
  • communities
  • youth agencies  

Youth work should center on skills youth need to cope with stress and reduce the urge to take risks. We refer to these skills as protective factors.  Work should focus on strengths. The Positive Youth Development (PYD)model is key to health strategies for youth. PYD projects:

  • Develop relationships with caring adults,
  • Supportive interactions with parents,
  • Promote positive connections to school, and,
  • Have opportunities to experiment in healthy ways.  

Research from John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health shows that adolescents understand risk. The risk of any given action just fails to stop them because of the benefits they perceive.


Teen Health Week 2018 is a global project urging teens to:

  • Take charge of their physical and mental health.
  • Take up healthy habits now and into adulthood.  

The World Health Organization published a May 2017 report as a “call to action” on the health needs of adolescents.  

Teens and teen organizations can host events and programs to focus on how teens impact their health – both good and bad.

Topics include:

  • Violence
  • Preventive care and vaccines
  • Diet and physical activity
  • Violence and self-harm
  • Mental health
  • Sexual health
  • Oral health care

How can you get involved? The answer is simple. The week can be what you make it. 

  • Share social media posts
  • Share educational materials
  • Write letters or articles for press
  • Host an educational event
  • Plan to meet with local government to discuss adolescent health issues
  • Ask youth for their ideas about ways to share positive health messaging to their peers or in their schools  

Visit the College of Physicians of Philadelphia for more information.  

Daily themes for the event include:  

Sunday, March 18: Violence Prevention – 

Youth violence is a public health problem that affects:

  • young people
  • Families                                       
  • Schools
  • Communities  

Youth violence is when young people between the ages of 10 and 24 years use physical force or power to harm others. Youth use violence to hurt unrelated peers and who they may not know well. Youth violence can take different forms:

  • Fights
  • Bullying
  • Threats with weapons
  • Gang-related violence.  

A young person can be a victim, an offender, or a witness.  

Problems of youth violence includes:

  • physical harm
  • Injuries or death
  • Psychological harm
  • Increased medical and justice costs
  • Decreased property values
  • Disruption of community services

CDC has a technical package to prevent youth violence and reduce risk factors. There are activities to reduce youth violence and its consequences. 

Monday, March 19: Preventive Care and Vaccines -

For young children, well-child visits and up-to-date vaccines help them to stay healthy. Adolescents and teenagers need vaccines, but they do not to visit the doctor as often. Teens don’t get all the recommended vaccines to protect them from deadly diseases.  

According to CDC:

Many teenagers remain vulnerable to these diseases. Visit DSHS’ Comprehensive Cancer Control Program for more information on HPV.

Tuesday, March 20: Healthy Diet and Exercise -

MyPlate helps youth choose healthy eating and exercise activities. The right mix can promote health now and in the future. This means:

  • Focus on variety, amount, and nutrition.
  • Choose foods and drinks with less fat, salt, and sugars.
  • Start with small changes to build healthier eating styles.
  • Support healthy eating for everyone.

Eating healthy is a journey shaped by many factors:

  • Stage of life
  • Situations
  • Preferences
  • Access to food
  • Culture
  • Traditions
  • Personal decisions made over time

Other Nutrition resources are at:

Wednesday, March 21: Mental Health -

The Texas Suicide Prevention Council has a free Mobile App for suicide prevention. It’s based on a suicide prevention training program called ASK. (ASK about suicide / Seek more information / Know where to refer). Take a moment and visit the Texas Suicide Prevention website. When you or your friends are in crisis, a shortcut to the right help can make a difference!

Thursday, March 22: Sexual Development and Health -

Healthy sexual development includes:

Sexual health occurs within a teen and with the environment. For example:

  • The biological process causes puberty. Access to healthy food impacts the biological process as well.
  • Psychological and socio-cultural processes occur through contact with family, culture, and peers.

These are also affected by brain development. See UC San Diego’s February 2018 ABCD study. Well visits on health-related habits are a critical part of adolescent health care.

In Texas, Healthy Texas Women can help adolescents 15-17 years of age and women 18-44 years of age. Healthy Texas Women offers women’s health and family planning at no cost to eligible women. These services help women:

  • Plan a family
  • Achieve, postpone, or prevent pregnancy

Services can have a positive effect on future pregnancy planning and general health.

Friday, March 23: Substance Use and Abuse -

Over 181,000 youth age 12 to 17 years have a Substance Use Disorder. 57% (or 103,559) live at or below 200 percent of Federal Poverty Levels.

The current behavioral health system capacity is a challenge. Texas behavioral health services include mental health and substance use disorders. It has changed over the past decade. This change is due to help from the Texas Governor and legislators. They want to improve the Texas behavioral health system. Part of the solution has been a Texas Statewide Behavioral Health Strategic Plan.

To learn more, visit HHSC’s Mental Health Services for Children and Adolescents.

Saturday, March 24: Oral Health -

The Maternal & Child Health Section’s Top Dental tips for teens:

  • Brush teeth before bed and at least one other time during the day, with fluoride toothpaste. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush for 2 minutes. Remember, a toothbrush isn’t a magic wand – any spot you don’t touch with a brush won’t get clean!
  • Have sugary food and drinks only at mealtimes. Snacking or sipping all day keeps your mouth acidic which is BAD news for teeth. You are not a cow, so don’t graze!
  • Visit your dentist at least twice a year, or as often as they recommend.
  • Clean between teeth and floss at least once a day. It helps remove junk and food from between your teeth. Most cavities in youth develop between the teeth, That’s why flossing is important. Cleaning between teeth will help bad breath and keep gums from bleeding all over the place.
  • Use a mouthwash to freshen breath and kill bacteria.
  • Use a straw if you have fizzy drinks. Straws help the drink to go to the back of your mouth and reduces the number of acid attacks on your teeth.
  • Wait 20 minutes after eating or drinking anything acidic before brushing your teeth.
  • Chew sugar-free gum after eating. It helps rinse the mouth and cancel out the acids which form in your mouth after eating.

Don’t wait around for your parents to bring it up -  if you need to go to a dentist, tell them!

While adolescents are generally healthy, substance abuse and other risky behaviors can be common problems. These health issues can have long-term effects.  

MCH believes that youth and family input is vital to program success in the community. MCH supports state-level projects to promote youth leadership and youth voice.  

The Texas Healthy Adolescent Initiative (THAI) is an example of this. THAI increases youth protective factors. THAI helps youth establish a strong base for adult life. It supports positive life choices. THAI supports Youth-Adult Partnerships. Communities can also use PYD and youth involvement to address community-identified risk factors.  

The Title V Needs Assessment showed the need to improve adolescent well visits too. We work with clinics to:

  • improve the adolescent-friendliness of the clinic,
  • increase the number of youth getting services, and,
  • make the most of health visits to look for potential health issues.

MCH believes that youth sexual violence is a public health problem. According a Center for Disease Control and Prevention Survey, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men suffered rape in their lifetime. One in 2 women and 1 in 5 men were victims of sexual violence other than rape at some point in their lives. A 2015 study conducted by UT (found here) had similar results in Texas.  

We are working to engage youth and unite communities around sexual assault. The main purpose is to prevent sexual violence by using prevention strategies. Examples of how local organizations are doing this include:

  • education for youth,
  • training for parents and other caring adults,
  • training for professionals connected to youth,
  • programs for students, and,
  • training campus personnel.

Education and training can reduce sexual assault on school campuses. Prevention uses activities to address the goals identified in Preventing Sexual Violence in Texas, A Primary Prevention Approach, 2010-2018. In 2016, Texas updated the State Plan. The amendment can be found here.

Department of State Health Services
State Adolescent Health Coordinator
Maternal and Child Health
PO Box 149347, MC 1922
Austin, TX 78714-9347

Telephone 512-776-7373
Fax 512-776-7658 

Last updated March 8, 2018