A sizable minority of adolescents believe they are likely to die at a young age, and this perception is a powerful predictor of involvement in high risk behaviors and poor health outcomes, according to a report in the journal Pediatrics.

Dr. Iris Wagman Borowsky of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and colleagues analyzed data from interviews conducted in 1995, 1996 and between 2001 and 2002 as part of Add Health, a school-based, longitudinal study of health-related behaviors and outcomes of U.S. youth in grades 7 through 12. A total of 20,562 respondents were enrolled in the study.

In 1995, the researchers noted that 3018 (14.7 percent) of the subjects believed they had no more than a 50/50 chance of living to age 35. Of those who believed they would die early, 43.9 percent still held that belief in 1996, as did 17.2 percent between 2001 and 2002.

Further analysis, revealed that illicit drug use, suicide attempt, fight-related injury, police arrest, unsafe sexual activity, and a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS were linked with perceived likelihood of early mortality at the second or third time points, or both. Anticipating early death in 1995 was predictive of each of these behaviors and outcomes, except illicit drug use, in the other two time periods.

Given the significant association of adolescents' belief in premature death with serious health behaviors and outcomes, the adults in teenagers' lives-parents, teachers, doctors, coaches, neighbors, and others -- must pay attention to this unusually common negative view, Borowsky said in an interview with Reuters Health.

We know some things about how to promote optimism and hope in youth, Borowsky explained. Parents matter -- involved, caring, connected parents, she said. Schools matter -- school connectedness, creating a climate where students feel a part of their school and safe at school, and media matters -- given the power of media to convey both positive and negative messages to a large audience of young people.