Medical Foundation appoints first Chair in adolescent health

12 March 2010

Adolescents' health issues can easily be neglected. Young people need to be given a voice and have the right to expect strong advocacy from health professionals, says Kate Steinbeck, who has just been appointed to the University of Sydney as Australia's first university-supported Professor of Adolescent Medicine, and the inaugural Chair of Adolescent Medicine at The Children's Hospital at Westmead.

"Most people are amazed to hear that one-in-five adolescents have a chronic illness or disability. For instance Type 1 insulin dependent diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease are both increasing in adolescents, the reasons for which are not clear. Mental health issues are a major health concern in young people, with anxiety and depression the commonest.

"Our health services need to be redesigned to accommodate the increased number of young people moving from paediatric to adult care."

"Though adolescence is roughly the high school years (the second decade in fact) these problems of young people don't always fit neatly into that age range. Issues we think of as adolescent may commence earlier and extend into a person's twenties," Professor Steinbeck says.

"Using an age range of 12 and 24 years makes more sense when considering the health needs of young people, otherwise they may fall between the gaps that exists between paediatric and adult health care or simply not have their needs addressed at all."

Professor Steinbeck is an internationally recognised authority on adolescence with a special research interest in the endocrinology of puberty, obesity and insulin resistance and transition from paediatric to adult care in chronic illness and disability.

"Sydney University's Medical Foundation is intensely proud of this appointment," says Professor Kathryn North, who is Professor of Child Health at the University of Sydney and was involved in the four-year long task of raising the money for the Chair in Adolescent Medicine.

"Kate holds her own internationally in this field and she's an impressive choice. It's hard to think of an area in adolescent health and wellbeing that she hasn't been active in," Professor North says.

"Taking on this role will allow me to bring together research and teaching in adolescent health in NSW and build a substantial evidence base of research and a presence in the area," explains Professor Steinbeck.

"We're still a relatively new speciality that needs to be recognised and funded properly. Like other areas in medicine, we need to know what works and doesn't work in this age group. You can't assume that adult research can apply to adolescents. and a developmental approach is very important. Research in neuroscience informs us that brain development continues well into mid-20s

"Adolescence is the time in a person's life when they can be set on a healthy path or an unhealthy one, which they and the community will pay for 30 or 40 years later. But adolescents are notoriously bad at seeking help and it requires a lot of expertise to design services to which they'll come and seek help," Professor Steinbeck says.

Chair in Adolescent Medicine
The funds for this were raised in a four-year campaign by the University of Sydney's Medical Foundation. It is a full-time academic position researching adolescent health, teaching medical students, paediatric and physician trainees as well as specialising doctors.

Kate Steinbeck
Kate trained in adult medicine, specialising in endocrinology before taking up adolescent medicine. She has interests in puberty, obesity and insulin resistance and chronic illness, as well as appropriately designed and funded adolescent health care.

Some adolescent health statistics
20 per cent of young people have chronic illness
25 per cent are obese
20 per cent have anxiety and emerging mental health issues

The Medical Foundation is the charitable Foundation of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Sydney.

Media Contact: Maggie Lanham, 02 9975 7569 or 0412 281277.