The ‘A’ is the Weakest Link: What Local Health Departments are Doing to Improve Adolescent Health

Melissa Tibbits, Kiara Lyons, Chad Abresch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Although adolescence is a critical developmental period, there has not been coordinated effort to comprehensively address adolescent health within the field of maternal and child health (MCH). In order to inform future adolescent health efforts, MCH leaders in local health departments were asked to reflect on the greatest health challenges facing adolescents in their communities, the causes of these health challenges, the interventions currently implemented to promote adolescent health, and additional intervention needs. Description: 15 interviews were conducted in 2018 with 13 city and county health departments and two community-based agencies (N = 19). Interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Mutually agreed upon themes were determined by the research team and these themes were used to code the transcripts. Results: Mental and behavioral health and sexual and reproductive health issues were perceived to be the greatest health challenges facing adolescents. Participants attributed these health issues to the social determinants of health and adverse childhood experiences. Although all health departments offered sexual and reproductive health interventions, few implemented mental and behavioral health interventions. Insufficient funding and collaboration challenges were the major barriers impeding the implementation of additional coordinated adolescent health interventions. Conclusion: Coordinated funding and technical assistance will be needed to enable MCH professionals in local health to realize their potential to improve the health of adolescents. Specific observations and opportunities were addressed in efforts to create conversation that would lead to an improvement in adolescent health services within local health departments, as well as communities and the field of MCH.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)368-376
Number of pages9
JournalMaternal and Child Health Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Adolescent health
  • Local health departments
  • Mental health
  • Physical health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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