A Long and Healthy Life: AdventHealth’s Shandi Appier on Maintaining Teen Health

The Health series is presented by AdventHealth

As adults, it’s easy to envy the teens in our lives enjoying the prime of their health. But that doesn’t mean their annual health screenings and wellness visits are any less important.

“It may be easy to assume that since adolescents don’t usually have a complicated medical history or chronic health issues, they do not need to see their physician regularly,” says Shandi Appier, MD, FAAP, pediatrician and internist with AdventHealth Medical Group Internal Medicine & Pediatrics at South Overland Park. “However, instilling healthy habits and providing education on the prevention of chronic diseases needs to start as early as possible. The more we investigate risk factors for things such as diabetes, hypertension, or obesity, the more we understand that behaviors and health practices early in life have a significant impact on later well-being.”

If you have a teenager under your care, you can help them get the health resources they need by keeping up with annual wellness visits. Not only will yearly preventive visits foster a trusting relationship between your teen and their physician, but these visits can identify health concerns that are difficult for non-medical professionals to catch.

“While some teenagers have excellent communication with parents, others may be less forthcoming about their sexuality and mental health,” Appier says. “The relationship and trust a teen develops with their physician can lead to a discussion of concerns they may not be comfortable talking about with anyone else.”

Shandi Appier, MD, FAAP, pediatrician and internist with AdventHealth Medical Group Internal Medicine & Pediatrics at South Overland Park.

Common Health Concerns in Teenagers
While teenagers are likely to experience some health challenges less than other age groups, Appier notes several key areas that may impact teenagers more than adults.

Mental-Health Disorders: “Mental-health issues are becoming more common within the adolescent population. Anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, and body dysmorphia are just a few of the many mental-health struggles teens can deal with,” says Appier. “These conditions affect mood, thinking, and behavior—it often makes an impact on school performance, social interactions, and conduct at home. Intentional self-injury and homicide are leading causes of death in adolescents, second only to unintentional injuries. It is important to identify potential mental-health issues early so teens can get appropriate resources.”

Unsafe Sexual Practices: “Many teens engage in sexual activity of some sort. Due to this new experience and lack of inhibition, adolescents are at higher risk of pregnancy or contracting Sexually Transmissible Infections (STIs),” says Appier. “It’s vital to have discussions with your teenager about safe sex and be available to answer any questions they might have. If teens are not comfortable discussing this with their parents, their primary care provider is available to have these conversations in a non-judgmental, safe environment.”

Substance Use: “Almost half of all adolescents will have tried an illicit drug and over 80 percent will have used alcohol by the time they are adults. Many factors increase the risk of substance use in teens, including concurrent mental-health issues, family concerns, peer encouragement, community risk factors, and negative life events,” says Appier. “Screening for these substances and counseling on potential harms, including addiction, is necessary to help prevent long-term complications. While cigarette smoking has decreased in prevalence, vaping has become common among teens and can lead to other adverse effects, such as nicotine addiction and associated lung injury.”

Unintentional Injuries: “This is the leading cause of death in the adolescent age group. Most of these involve motor-vehicle accidents, followed by an accidental overdose of substances,” says Appier. “The teenage years come with a sense of invulnerability and, therefore, can lead to potentially dangerous activities and decision-making. Alcohol use and illicit substance use can contribute to risk-taking and unsafe conditions involving activities such as driving or swimming.”

Tips for Parents of Teens
One of the most important things an adult can do for the teenagers in their household is to foster open-ended discussions about topics such as mental health, safe sex, and drug use. 

“Despite the way they sometimes act, teenagers still do care about how their parents interact with them,” Appier says. “Just being there when they need you will be the most helpful as they explore their individuality, freedom, and identity. Make sure to give your teenager the best chance of success by bringing them to preventive care visits each year.”

In between visits, remember to be vigilant about any changes in your teen’s mental or physical health. You know your teenager best, and any concerning changes warrant a visit with their physician.