Teenagers represent a large proportion of the population and have the potential for considerable morbidity because of high smoking rates and unwanted teenage pregnancy. The government intends to reduce the incidence of this important morbidity, but there is no coherent strategy for attaining these improvements. Research in this area is limited in the United Kingdom, but research from elsewhere has clarified teenagers' attitudes. There have also been some intervention studies resulting in improvements in specific aspects of teenage health. A worrying theme which emerges from this research is of a new inverse care law. Teenagers with low self-esteem and less hope for their own future are more likely to lead lifestyles which put them at risk and are less likely to ask for advice in relation to their health or lifestyle. Thus, it may be more difficult to alter behaviour in these patients; overall population based improvements may be difficult to achieve. Teenagers' own concerns appear to be at variance with the goals dictated by government and health professionals. It is suggested that the only method of meeting the needs of teenagers and at the same time aiming to reduce morbidity in this age group is to foster an atmosphere of patient centredness in dealings with adolescent patients and for further ther research in this important health gain area.