Home NEWS County News Inadequate investment in adolescent well-being could cost USD 110T by 2050

Inadequate investment in adolescent well-being could cost USD 110T by 2050

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Today’s adolescents, aged 10–19 years, face unprecedented challenges amidst a rapidly evolving world, according to a new report calling for greater investments in adolescent well-being.

The report, released at the 77th World Health Assembly, was commissioned by The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH), working with Victoria Institute of Strategic Economic Studies of Victoria University in Australia, WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA.

The report finds that failure by all stakeholders to substantially increase investment in programmes targeted at improving adolescent well-being would result in a staggering economic cost, with potential global losses amounting to an estimated USD 110 trillion (benefits foregone) from 2024 to 2050.

This equates to USD 4.1 trillion per year, or 7.7 per cent of the GDP of the countries included in the research for the report, which covers about 80 per cent of the world’s population.

“With just about five years left to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, progress lagging, and the adolescent population increasing, the urgency of investing in adolescents’ well-being cannot be overstated,” says Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and PMNCH Board Chair.

“A multi-pronged and multisectoral approach to investment – anchored in meaningful adolescent and youth engagement, accountability, transparency, and multi-stakeholder collaboration is crucial,” she commented, adding that “the time for action is now to ensure that today’s adolescents can thrive and contribute positively to future generations.”

The benefits of investing in adolescent well-being, however, are significant, with benefit-to-cost ratios (BCRs) in most cases showing economic and social returns at least 10 times the initial investment, and in many cases significantly higher.

It has recently been estimated that a broad package of health services for adolescents is likely to give a return of USD 9.6 for every dollar invested; while investing in education and training for adolescents is likely to give a return of USD 28.6 for every dollar invested.

Commenting, Dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)said, “Empowered with skills and opportunities, young people will put us on course to a more sustainable world for all.”

Catherine Russell, Executive Director, UNICEF, says, “Evidence shows that investing in adolescent girls is a game-changer for everyone.

“With resources and opportunities, the world’s 600 million adolescent girls can become the largest generation of women leaders and change-makers the world has ever seen,” said Russell.

While progress has been made in some areas of improving adolescent well-being, significant challenges persist, placing the well-being of adolescents at risk. These include:

  • High mortality rates: Over 1.5 million adolescents and young adults aged 10-24 died in 2024, about 4500 daily. The leading causes of death – injuries (including road traffic injuries and drowning), interpersonal violence, self-harm and maternal injuries – are preventable (WHO);
  • Mental health: One in seven 10–19-year-olds globally experiences a mental health issue, with depression, anxiety and behavioural disorders among the leading causes of illness and disability; suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15–19-year-olds (WHO);
  • Adolescent pregnancy: Approximately 12 million girls aged 15–19 years and at least 777,000 girls aged under 15 years give birth each year in developing regions (WHO), with complications during pregnancy and childbirth the leading cause of death for 15–19-year-old girls globally
  • Education and employment: Globally, one fifth of young people aged 15-24 are not in employment, education or training (NEET), with young women being twice as likely as young men to have this status
  • Climate and environmental hazards: Almost every person aged under 18 in the world is exposed to at least one climate and environmental hazard, such as heatwaves, cyclones, air pollution, flooding and water scarcity. (UNICEF, 2021).

“Investing in adolescent well-being is crucial because it lays the foundation for a healthy, productive future generation,” says David Imbago, Director, YIELD Hub and Chair, PMNCH Adolescents and Youth Constituency.

“A rights-based approach ensures that every young person can access the resources and opportunities they need to thrive, respecting their dignity and empowering them to be active participants in their own development and their communities,” Imbago said.

In addition to underlining human rights, demographic and epidemiological reasons for investing in the well-being of adolescents, the report, Adolescents in a Changing World – The case for Urgent Investment, addresses the economic case for investment, focusing on the excellent returns from investing in:

  1. A broad package of health services for adolescents
  2. Prevention and treatment of cervical cancer including human papillomavirus vaccination (HPV)
  3. Tuberculosis prevention and treatment
  4. Myopia treatment
  5. Interventions to build adolescent connectedness, agency and resilience
  6. Interventions to improve adolescent mental health
  7. School feeding programmes
  8. Increased investments in education, skills and employment for adolescents
  9. Investments to reduce violence and injury
  10. Intervention programmes to deter early marriage by offering school incentives, empowerment education, and community mobilization to change social norms

To address the complex and interlinked challenges facing today’s generation of adolescents, the new report calls for a coordinated investment programme to improve their well-being.

The envisaged programme should include transformative investment in three key platforms or systems:

Universal health coverage, including primary care;

Enhanced schools, that focus on learning, health, nutrition and student well-being; and

Support systems, strengthening local community initiatives for adolescent health and well-being.

Five domains are crucial for adolescent well-being – health and nutrition; connectedness, positive values and contribution to society; safety and a supportive environment; learning competence, education, skills and employability; and agency and resilience.

Adolescents have the right to determine and lead their lives autonomously, in line with their evolving capacities and without fear of harm, violence, or discrimination based on their identities and life choices.

Bruce Rasmussen, Director, Victoria Institute of Strategic Economic Studies at Victoria University, Australia, says: “The returns to investing in adolescent well-being are high and will give adolescents the opportunity to look forward to decent jobs and a confident healthy life. The time for investment is now.”

The report’s central conclusion is that the world urgently needs a new investment programme to improve the well-being of adolescents.

This must be a global initiative, but it should be carried out at the local level with initiatives tailored to the realities of individual countries.

The young people themselves must be involved and allowed to express their specific needs. Given the difficult debt position of many developing countries, substantial commitments from wealthier countries and from international institutions will be necessary.

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