One of five adolescent boys encounters obstacles in getting needed health care or finds talking about his health concerns difficult. These and other findings were recently released in The Health of Adolescent Boys: Commonwealth Fund Survey Findings, a report by Fund staff Cathy Schoen, Karen Davis, Catherine DesRoches, and Alexander Shekhdar. Based on the boys' own reports, by high school years many suffer from abuse and associated mental health problems, risky behaviors, and eating disorders.
The analysis was based on data from 3,162 boys in grades five through twelve who were interviewed as part of The Commonwealth Fund Survey of the Health of Adolescent Girls, which also included interviews with 3,586 girls. The survey was conducted nationwide by Louis Harris and Associates, Inc., from December 1996 to June 1997.
By high school years, more than one of five boys said they had a time when they did not get needed health care. The leading reason boys gave for not getting needed care was they did not want to tell their parents about the problem (28% of boys gave this reason).
Uninsured and low-income boys were most at risk for access problems, with three of ten reporting a time they went without needed care. When boys received care, they often indicated discomfort with discussing a health problem with a provider, concerns about confidentiality, and a gap in communication with physicians.
Many older boys surveyed (26%) did not have a regular source of care. Minority boys were particularly at risk: more than one in four black, Hispanic, and Asian American boys said they had no usual source of care, compared with 17 percent of white boys. Survey questions about abuse uncovered disturbing results: while the incidence among boys was lower than among girls, it was still significant. Thirteen percent of high school boys reported physical or sexual abuse, compared with 21 percent of high school girls.
The results of abuse were disquieting. Abused boys were more than three times as likely to report symptoms of poor mental health than non-abused boys. In addition, one-fourth of abused boys said they binged or purged, indicating possible eating disorders. Yet less than half of abused boys said they had told anyone about their abuse.
The report concludes that a substantial proportion of adolescent boys are in need of improved access to health care and services sensitive to their needs and concerns. The findings indicate a need for both improved health insurance coverage and outreach to adolescents at risk.
Facts and Figures
- Forty percent of boys reporting physical or sexual abuse showed depressive symptoms, compared with 13 percent of boys who had not been abused.
- Nearly half (48%) of abused boys said they had not talked to anyone about their abuse, compared with 29 percent of abused girls. Only 7 percent of boys said they had discussed their abuse with a doctor.
- Thirty percent of abused high school-age boys drank frequently, compared with 16 percent of non-abused boys. Twenty-seven percent smoked frequently, compared with 10 percent of non-abused boys, and 34 percent had used drugs in the past month, compared with 15 percent of non-abused boys.