Adolescents and young adults of color are the least likely to have health insurance and have the least access to health care compared to other groups in the United States, Angela Diaz, M.P.H. ’02, told an HSPH audience during the Yerby Diversity Lecture in Public Health on April 5. Diaz directs the Mount Sinai Adolescents Health Center (MSAHC), which she has turned into the largest adolescent-specific health center in the United States. The center provides comprehensive medical treatments to more than 10,000 young adults up to age 24 each year, free of charge.
With demographic trends predicting that Black, Latino, Asian and Native American youth will constitute about 56% of the adolescent population by 2050, it is critical that public health professionals pay attention to their unique needs, Diaz said. Patients at MSAHC, who are predominately urban kids of color, receive services that include treatment for physical, mental, and reproductive health, as well as health education and prevention.
Diaz believes that offering these resources at an early age helps build a framework for healthy adolescence. This is particularly important in regards to sexual behavior, she said. A recent study led by Diaz found that 30% of high school students are having sex by 9th grade. By 12th grade that number rises to 65%. Early intervention helps kids learn to avoid risky behaviors and go on to lead healthier lives.
Diaz is the Jean C. and James W. Crystal Professor of Pediatrics and Community Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. She serves on an advisory panel for the National Institutes of Health Reproductive Sciences Branch.
The Yerby Diversity Lecture in Public Health is an ongoing series that offers an opportunity to learn from prominent minority public health academics and professionals outside of the faculty at HSPH. Julio Frenk, dean of Harvard School of Public Health, gave opening remarks.