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A world-leading partnership for adolescent health

Professor George Patton and Professor Susan Sawyer know adolescent health is critical to current and future generations, and work hard to keep it in the centre of policy activity locally and globally.

Last year the world-renowned pair published innovative research outlining how children’s growth and development is affected by the health and lifestyles of their parents, well before those parents decide to have a child.

The MCRI and University of Melbourne findings, ‘Adolescence and the next generation’, were published in the journal Nature in February 2018.

Lead author of the paper, Prof Patton says while the health system for children currently kicks in from a woman’s first antenatal visit — most often eight to 14 weeks into a pregnancy — engagement needs to happen pre-conception.

“Current policies to promote the best possible start to life in Australia along with most other countries are starting too late,” he says.

“We need it to go beyond its focus on contraception to tackle broader health risks and emotional wellbeing in both young women and men.”

This means adolescence holds greater relevance for human development than ever before, according to paper co-author and passionate advocate for young people Prof Sawyer.

“An extended adolescence creates an opportunity for this generation to acquire greater assets and capabilities,” she said.

“That will make a huge difference not only for themselves but for their children.” Profs Sawyer and Patton are co-leaders of the Centre for Adolescent Health, which brings together the research strength of MCRI, alongside the clinical strength of campus partner The Royal Children’s Hospital and the education strength of the University of Melbourne.

Since its founding 25 years ago, the Centre has contributed to shifting adolescent health from an obscure subspecialty to the forefront of national and international initiatives.

In Australia, adolescents are now central to mental health and substance abuse policies and, more recently, central to discussions of chronic physical illness policy, including non-communicable disease risks and cancer survival.

At an international level, adolescents have risen to prominence with the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health, a prominent and funded agenda within the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. In all of these developments, the Centre for Adolescent Health has been a leading player, contributing expert recommendations that have become policy cornerstones.

With its established expertise and reputation in adolescent health, the Centre and the whole Melbourne Campus is committed to taking every opportunity to shape policy and practice for the benefit of young people around the world.