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Adolescent health throughout the world: an important mission of the Journal of Adolescent Health
The Journal of Adolescent Health
During the last meeting of the Society for Adolescent Medicine (SAM) in St. Louis, Missouri, in March 2004, the SAM International Chapter discussed the issue of the International Articles section of the Journal of Adolescent Health. The members who were present came to the conclusion that the rationale for the maintenance of such a special section was no longer applicable. Why then? The International Chapter of SAM acknowledges the impetus that Dr. Iris Litt (the previous Editor-in-Chief) and the Journal's editorial board had given to international contributors by creating a special section for their manuscripts. However, the general quality of these international papers has improved over time, and there is no longer any reason for considering these manuscripts separately. Thus, the decision to abolish the International Articles section of the Journal has been endorsed by the current Editorial Board and becomes effective with this issue. In the first issue of the Journal in September 1980, Dr. Richard Mackenzie, then President of SAM, stated that the Journal would be "an important vehicle to disseminate the scientific scholarly knowledge unique to the adolescent" . At that time, the message was essentially directed at U.S. readers, many of them belonging to SAM. There were no foreigners on the Board of the Journal, and very few papers from outside the United States appeared during this decade. In January 1990, Dr. Litt became the Editor-in-Chief and invited seven people from outside the United States to become members of the Board; they were listed as a separate "International Board." One year later, a special new International Articles section of the Journal was created for the purpose of encouraging professionals from outside the United States to submit original articles, review papers, and commentaries. In January 1992, the international members of the Board were merged with the U.S. members to create one unified Editorial Board. The openness to contributions from outside the United States has been fruitful: Over the last 5 years, 20% (114 out of 581) of the papers published by the Journal have come from other parts of the world: 40 from Europe, 25 from Asia, 16 from Australia and New Zealand, 10 from Africa, 9 from Canada, 7 from South America, and 7 from Central America and the Caribbean. Also, during the last decennium, the percentages of international articles submitted to the Journal have grown at a faster pace than papers from the United States. This trend reflects the evolution of the discipline of Adolescent Medicine and Health in the world. Thirty years ago, SAM attracted a relatively small group of professionals from outside the United States who, in attending the meetings, where able to hear about sound scientific research, to gather new projects, and to exchange ideas with colleagues involved in similar situations. Over time, with the creation of the International Association for Adolescent Health (www.iaah.org) and of country-based associations , Adolescent Medicine has spread outside North America, as witnessed by the increasing number of international publications in the Journal, as well as the rapidly increasing membership of the International Chapter of SAM. Why does the Journal need foreign contributions? The answer to this question is multifaceted. First, and most importantly, we learn from others; we learn from professionals working in other health settings and cultural contexts, and the most innovative experiences do not necessarily stem from developed countries. For example, many years ago, the World Health Organization developed a qualitative method for the exploration of adolescent sexuality , and the approach was successfully used in several African countries. In our research group, we were fortunate enough to hear about it and applied it with great benefit to the Swiss population  at a time when qualitative research was nearly absent from the SAM meetings. Second, although the extent of adolescent health problems differ from one country to the other, the nature of these problems remain the same around the world, and with the globalization of our societies , this will become more and more true in the future. The major burden of disease around the world , besides malnutrition and sanitation, is linked with unsafe sex, substance use, and physical inactivity, as well as intentional and unintentional injuries, the origin of which are massively rooted in lifestyles adopted during adolescence. Thus, researchers from many countries can bring their own experiences and vision on ways to deal with these problems. Given the epidemiological situation of the United States , as well as the fact that many U.S. members of SAM have clinical responsibilities, some domains are overrepresented in the Journal, such as the area of HIV/adolescent sexuality, substance use, eating disorders, and violence. Health professionals from other parts of the world can bring other issues to the Journal, such as the role of the environment in shaping adolescent health, the prevention of injuries, the role of sports and physical activity, or the mission and impact of school health . Third, international professionals also bring other perspectives and ways of thinking, linked to their own educational, ethnic, and social backgrounds. Indeed, one thrilling theme is that of cross-country comparisons and cross-cultural research  and , an area that is both promising and fraught with pitfalls: we can indeed learn from situations in other regions and the ways in which various answers have been developed to overcome adolescent health problems, but we also must keep in mind that no clinical or preventive intervention can be interpreted without taking into account the specificities of the cultural contexts in which they were developed. In other terms, in a globalized world , in which more and more young people are exposed to the same messages and fashions, it becomes increasingly important to understand what is unique to adolescence and adolescents on one hand, and what is attributable to one specific culture or region of the planet on the other. Over the last few months, the Journal has received many international papers whose content was quite interesting, but which were rejected because the manuscript did not meet the Journal's standards: the methods were poorly presented, the conclusions were not derived from the results, or the English was not readable. For some foreign specialists, publishing in the Journal still constitutes a challenge. As we have now decided to abolish the special area dedicated to international health, all applicants from outside the United States will have to comply strictly to the policies of the Journal: that is, submitting high-quality, innovative, and well-presented papers. How can we achieve such a result? There are several avenues to improve both the content and the presentation of international papers. First, potential contributors should be encouraged to regularly read the Journal and get a sense of how to comply with its overall principles. One other option is to collaborate with colleagues within the United States on topics that are of interest for both partners , or to send a preliminary draft of the paper to a colleague in another country for a critique before sending it the Journal. Indeed, over the last years, senior members of the adolescent health scientific community have often been asked their opinion or comments on preliminary versions, a simple means to improve the presentation of any contribution. The Journal has a large Editorial Board, many members of which will certainly be willing to provide such assistance in the future. One last way to get involved in sound scientific publication is to attend the SAM meeting. Although more and more foreigners do attend the SAM meetings, the number of international posters or oral presentations has remained proportionally low. Submitting abstracts and discussing results during a plenary or during a smaller meeting-poster session or Special Interest groups-is a very simple way to improve one's own performance. The new Editorial Board is committed to a Journal that attempts to advance the science of Adolescent Health and Medicine and strongly wants to encourage the discussion of issues that are critical to young people throughout the world. In fact, this is the very reason why an international member of SAM has been appointed as an Associate Editor. The international community has its work cut out. Let's take up the challenge.
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