Is it normal to feel these questions ...?': a content analysis of the health concerns of adolescent girls writing to a magazine

Oxford Univ Press
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Family Practice, 2009, 26 (3), pp. 196 - 203
Issue Date:
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Background. There is a mismatch between presenting concerns of adolescents to GPs and behaviours that lead to adolescent morbidity and mortality. Better understanding of health concerns of this target group would enhance communication between health professionals and adolescent patients. Objective. To explore and categorize the health concerns of adolescent girls sending unsolicited emails to a teenage girls' magazine. Method. We conducted a content analysis of 1000 systematic randomly selected unsolicited emails submitted to the health column of an Australian adolescent girls' magazine over a 6-month period. Results. Three main foci of concern were identified: Context of Concern, Health Issue of Concern and Advice Sought for Concern. Within Health Issue of Concern, there were five categories: body (47.5%), sex (31.9%), relationship (14.7%), mind (4.7%) and violence and/or safety (1.2%). Concerns within the body and sex categories ranged enormously, but frequently expressed intimate descriptions of anatomy, feelings, sexual practices and relationships. Many concerns occurred in the context of adolescents' relationships with others. The proportion of concerns about physical or psychological symptoms or health issues commonly associated with the adolescent age group (such as health risk behaviours, mental health, pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections) was relatively small. Conclusions. GPs and other health professionals might engage more readily with adolescent patients with a deeper understanding of the concerns that adolescents have about their bodies, relationships and overall health. Seemingly 'trivial' issues, such as normal puberty, could be used as discussion triggers in health consultations to help alleviate anxiety and build rapport.
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