The Health of Teenagers: A Focused Ethnographic Study


Address correspondence to: loan K. Magilvy, Ph.D., R.N., University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, School of Nursing, 4200 East Ninth Avenue, C288, Denver, CO 80262. Telephone: (303) 394–8928.


This study, a focused community analysis, was conducted to determine the health needs and status of the aggregate of school-aged adolescents (13–18 years) using a method combining an epidemiologic approach with an ethnographic field method. Health was defined broadly, assumed to be interrelated with environmental, economic, social, educational, and cultural variables influencing adolescent life. The research involved five steps: collection of available secondary epidemiologic and census data; interviews with key informants, such as teachers, parents, school nurses, and other adults working with teenagers; participant observation and ethnographic interviews with primary informants, that is, teenagers from a variety of backgrounds; and finally, analysis and reporting of secondary and ethnographic data. Of the many themes generated in the data collection, four are reported here: lifestyle, health, pregnancy, and substance abuse. Findings included a typology of subgroups of the adolescent population that influenced lifestyles and led to different attitudes toward health, pregnancy, and substance abuse. The ethnographic approach facilitated an understanding of the health needs and attitudes of teenagers, implying a need for altered interventions and approaches by adults teaching and caring for them.