Why does Professor from Loughborough University think that adolescence is the beginning of the end?

Noel CameronStudents, PhD students, tutors, researchers, professionals of different specialties of medicine and public health from the Faculty of Medicine at Vilnius University participated in the lecture titled “Adolescence: The beginning of the end”, led by a very famous professor of Loughborough University (UK) Noel Cameron, the best student of the father of international modern auxology James Mourilyan Tanner (UK). He came here at the invitation of a professor at Vilnius University, the head of the Department of Anatomy, Histology and Anthropology, and the chair of the Doctoral Committee for PhD studies in Medicine at Vilnius University, prof. dr. Janina Tutkuviene.

“This first (and we hope not the last) meeting with a world-renowned professor of Human Biology Noel Cameron is a very big honor and a real pleasure to the entire academic society of our ALMA MATER. He is one of the most famous auxologists (auxology studies human growth and development) in the world and works at the widely known School of Sport, Exercise and Health Science at Loughborough University”, prof. dr. Janina Tutkuviene stated. “Noel Cameron is the author of a lot of books, articles, journals (more than 300 papers). He is the newly elected President of the European Anthropological Association (EAA). The next meeting of the EAA will be organized by our Department and will be held at the Old Campus of Vilnius University on August 26-29, 2020. So, we hope to meet with the professor again”.

“It is my first time in Lithuania and I feel fascinated by the beauty of Vilnius and hospitality of its inhabitants”, the professor from UK said, expressing his sincere gratitude to prof. Janina Tutkuviene for her kind invitation and fruitful cooperation. He enjoyed visiting the Vilnius University campus and was really surprised that it had such a long history dating back 440 years. “My congratulations to Vilnius University! It seems to me that life here has a strong community feel. I found the students of the Faculty of Medicine very knowledgeable and willing to communicate. They are not indifferent to their own and the public health”, prof. Noel Cameron noticed. He thinks, that it is great to have such a University in Europe with a lot of talents of which to be proud. He explained, that Loughborough University (UK) also takes pride in its long history as an institution of further and higher education: “But we are only 110 years old”.

Loughborough University is a public research university in the market town of Loughborough, Leicestershire, in the East Midlands of England. It has been a university since 1966, but the institution dates back to 1909, when the then Loughborough Technical Institute began with a focus on skills and knowledge which would be directly applicable in the wider world. Loughborough was named University of the Year in Great Britain in 2019.

In his lecture prof. Noel Cameron presented the idea of adolescence being a crucial period with marked physical, emotional, and intellectual changes, as well as changes in social roles, relationships and expectations. According to him, all of these are important to the development of the individual and provide the basis for health during adulthood. Establishing healthy behavior is a vital part of the lifecourse.

To look back, the history of the study of human growth and the development of measurement of human growth, collection of data started in the age of Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was preceded by and closely associated with the scientific revolution. It was an intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 18th century. This was when Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, a French naturalist, mathematician, cosmologist, and encyclopédiste published his works (36 volumes) “Histoire Naturelle”, that influenced the next two generations of naturalists.

The oldest published longitudinal study, still of great value today was made by Count Philibert de Montbeillard’s on his son (1759-1777). If growth can be thought of as a journey, then two curves (Distance Curve) and (Velocity Curve) of growth of a person describe the distance travelled from the birth to 18 years old and tell us about the patterns of growth of all people. Variation in growth patterns and variation in tempo of growth are very important and show obvious relations between our body and physiology. Growth and development differs in different countries. Growth charts for the main auxological parameters (height, weight, etc.) of Lithuanian children were elaborated by prof. J. Tutkuvienė, and are used in clinical practice to evaluate growth velocity and sexual maturation of children and adolescents. Infancy with childhood, also puberty are the main critical periods of our life and clearly, the process of human growth and development takes almost 20 years to complete. It is a complex phenomenon under the control of both genetic and environmental influence.

Adolescence is one of the most rapid phases of human development. Recently, biological maturity precedes psychosocial maturity in many countries. The latter phenomenon is also characteristic of Lithuania – during the last decade, due to rapid changes in lifestyle, nutrition and other factors, Lithuanian girls started to mature much earlier, however, very early maturation later in life is much often related to metabolic syndrome, obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases. The changes in adolescence have health consequences not only in adolescence but also over the life-course. The unique nature and importance of adolescence mandates explicit and specific attention to health. This is fundamentally important to understand the emergence of risk for non-communicable disease during growth at adolescence.

According to Noel Cameron, adolescence becomes the beginning of the end, because the health of every adolescent is the basis for future health during the lifecourse. Non-communicable diseases, caused by a person’s lifestyle, are the leading killer today and are on the increase. For example, by evidence of David Barker (1938-2013), birth rates are closely related to mortality from cardiovascular and coronary heart diseases. In the epidemiological literature, the fetal origins hypothesis associated with David J. Barker posits that chronic, degenerative conditions of adult health, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes, may be triggered by circumstances in uterus, also in earlier decades. Lower birthweight, rapid or catch-up growth during infancy or childhood, various health risk factors in adolescence might lead to different diseases (metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes and cardio-vascular diseases).

Prof. Noel Cameron is sure, that non-communicable diseases are the major health concern of the 21st Century: “Risks for our health are acquired during intrauterine life and infancy and enhanced during childhood and adolescence. I strongly believe, that adolescence is the last chance to significantly reduce risk factors for health. So, think about it… Is adolescence the beginning of the end of our life?”

The participants of this interesting and provocative lecture asked the professor what should be done in order to reduce health risks factors gained in adolescence. What would be his recommendations for those who have already passed this critical age of adolescence (20 years)? Noel Cameron answered with a wise smile: “You have to make sure that your life is healthy!” According to him, a healthy lifestyle is one which helps to maintain and improve your health and well-being. There are many different things that everyone can do to live a healthy lifestyle, such as eating healthily, being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, and managing stress. However, a healthy lifestyle is not just about healthy eating and exercise, it is also about taking care of the “whole you” – your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. And, that means constantly taking care of yourself.

Later the professor from UK added, that his own lifestyle is very busy. He eats a lot of fish and travels a lot. Noel Cameron does sports, plays golf and twice a year goes skiing. He adores teaching, writing books and taking up challenges: “I am 70 years old now. And one day I thought that I needed something more in my life than doing research and writing scientific articles. A year ago I started to play the alto saxophone. I have never done it before!”.