OBJECTIVE: To review epidemiologic studies of the health of street youth in industrialized countries, with a special focus on Canadian youth.
METHODS: We identified 52 peer-reviewed studies from searches of the MEDLINE database and bibliographies of published papers, for data on blood-borne and sexually transmitted infections, mental health problems, pregnancy, violence and mortality.
RESULTS: Rates of hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV infection are much higher among street youth than among their non-street peers. Likewise, the prevalence of all mental health problems assessed in street youth is greater than that in non-street youth. Pregnancy is more frequent among street than household youth. Street youth also experience high levels of violence: a large proportion report physical abuse or assault. Finally, mortality is about 11 times the expected rate based on age and sex and is mainly caused by suicide and drug overdose.
CONCLUSION: Current research results are useful to orient public health interventions for street youth, but further epidemiologic research is needed. The need for Canadian data is particularly acute in specific areas including mental health, violence, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections such as, for example, herpes infection and syphilis.