The Center on Young Adult Health and Development (CYAHD) was established in 2009 at the University of Maryland School of Public Health and is the first center in the United States specifically dedicated to understanding the health and development of young adults. Young adulthood is a neglected developmental period in the health sciences, relative to childhood, adolescence and older adulthood. This disparity is unfortunate because several important health issues affect young adults disproportionately. For instance, many health risk behaviors are more prevalent in young adulthood than in any other developmental period. Also, several chronic health conditions—including substance use disorders, depression, and obesity—have their onset during the transition from adolescence to adulthood.
From a historical perspective, young adulthood—that is the transitional period between adolescence and full adulthood—now lasts well into the twenties. Given the relatively recent emergence of young adulthood as a truly distinct developmental stage, there is a need to learn more about what supports are required to successfully complete the psychological transition to adulthood and near-complete autonomy. Therefore, the overarching goal of CYAHD is to bring much-needed attention to this underrepresented area of study, and advance a research agenda to further our knowledge regarding a broad spectrum of issues affecting young adult health and development. Under this broad goal, CYAHD recognizes the following three focus areas.
- To deepen our understanding of the factors that influence health-risk behaviors among young adults, and the broad array of consequences associated with these behaviors.
- To understand health and help-seeking behaviors of young adults, attitudes regarding their own physical and mental health, and barriers to health care access and utilization.
- To advance understanding of how to implement best practices to address behavioral health of young adults in the community and more specifically, in higher education settings.
Local, state, and federal agencies all have a stake in understanding the health and well-being of young adults. CYAHD is committed to understanding what health and psychosocial problems might interfere with the ability of young people to fully avail themselves of the learning opportunities available to them, and then translate the skills they acquired in secondary school and college into successful careers and other adult roles. There is a strong desire to identify what earlier factors in adolescence predict health, safety, and well-being during young adulthood. To that end, CYAHD conducts research on health risk behaviors and mental health issues that can interfere with successful development and translates this research to guide the development of intervention strategies.
The Center began as an outgrowth of one of the largest NIH-funded longitudinal studies of young adults, the College Life Study (CLS), which began in 2003. The Center has grown in its capacity to provide the following:
- Operational expertise in data collection, management, and analysis: Center personnel have the expertise to collect data using state-of-the art online technology as well as administer computer-assisted personal interviews and assessments. The Center has experience with developing and refining effective strategies for recruiting, tracking, and maintaining participants in longitudinal studies, and has received national attention for pioneering cutting-edge methodologies that result in excellent participant response rates. Additionally the Center has the capacity to manage and analyze data using both simple and more sophisticated statistical techniques, including complex multivariate modeling.
- Program evaluation: CYAHD has led several evaluations of various types of community-based programs, involving the examination of both process outcomes and longer-term impact and effectiveness. Currently, CYAHD is leading an evaluation of an adolescent addiction treatment center in Canada and an evaluation of a parent support network.
- Knowledge Translation: CYAHD has produced numerous scientific articles, white papers, research briefs, fact sheets, and technical reports. We often present our work to a variety of audiences, including parents, educational professionals, policy makers, clinicians, and scientists, and emphasize the importance of translating scientific evidence into relevant, practical recommendations for policy and practice.
- Technical assistance and training: We regularly provide technical assistance and organize training activities. We lead the Maryland Collaborative, a network of 18 institutions in Maryland committed to implementing evidence-based best practices to reduce excessive drinking and related problems among college students.
- Building community partnerships: The Center's interdisciplinary team collaborates with domestic and international colleagues who share similar interests. CYAHD is committed to strengthening ties with community leaders, policymakers, and higher education professionals to optimize the practical impact and scientific relevance of Center activities.
With these existing resources, the Center is well-positioned to expand its operations-in terms of both data collection, analyses and translation of existing data-and secure additional funding to pursue new projects as well as design training opportunities for new investigators.