Positive Youth Development Programs in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Conceptual Framework and Systematic Review of Efficacy

J Adolesc Health. 2019 Jul;65(1):15-31. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2019.01.024. Epub 2019 Apr 19.


Purpose: Positive youth development (PYD) has served as a framework for youth programs in high-income countries since the 1990s and has demonstrated broad behavioral health and developmental benefits. PYD programs build skills, assets, and competencies; foster youth agency; build healthy relationships; strengthen the environment; and transform systems to prepare youth for successful adulthood. The goal of this article was to systematically review the impact of PYD programs in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Methods: Targeted searches of knowledge repository Web sites and keyword searches of Scopus and PubMed identified over 21,500 articles and over 3,700 evaluation reports published between 1990 and mid-2016. Ninety-four PYD programs with evaluations in LMICs were identified, of which 35 had at least one experimental or rigorous quasi-experimental evaluation.

Results: Sixty percent of the 35 programs with rigorous evaluations demonstrated positive effects on behaviors, including substance use and risky sexual activity, and/or more distal developmental outcomes, such as employment and health indicators.

Conclusions: There is promising evidence that PYD programs can be effective in LMICs; however, more rigorous examination with long-term follow-up is required to establish if these programs offer benefits similar to those seen in higher income countries.

Keywords: Intervention efficacy; Low- and middle-income countries; Positive youth development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Developing Countries
  • Employment*
  • Health Risk Behaviors*
  • Humans
  • Mental Health*
  • Social Skills*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / prevention & control*