Young people are happier and healthier than their counterparts a decade ago, according to a major new study into the wellbeing of adolescents across Europe and North America.
A study, part of collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), sheds new light on the habits and happiness of 11 to 15 year-olds in over 40 different countries across a 16 year period (1994-2010). The Irish partners, Drs Saoirse Nic Gabhainn, Michal Molcho and Colette Kelly from the Health Promotion Research Centre in NUI Galway co-authored the study launched today.
Findings include some significant improvements in how young people report their own health and well-being. Overall, the results suggest that contemporary adolescents are in a better position than past generations.
NUI Galway’s Dr Saoirse Nic Gabhainn, Principal Investigator for Ireland, commented, “Adolescence is a crucial stage in life when you lay the foundation for adulthood, whether that’s healthy or otherwise. While there is much to celebrate about the health and well-being of many young people today, others continue to experience real and worrying problems.”
Over the last decade in Ireland there has been a decline in school-aged children drinking alcohol weekly and in experiencing multiple injuries. There have also been improvements in both self-rated health and ease of communication with parents.
However, the study found increased pressure from schoolwork and no reductions in bullying. The study also identified a significant rise in Ireland of children from less affluent families having more health complaints.
“By comparing today’s young people with their counterparts a decade ago we can better understand how their health is influenced by the circumstances in which they live; of real concern must now be the increases in social inequalities in Ireland, where children from poorer homes are more likely to report ill-health, and the gap between rich and poor has increased over time,” added Dr Nic Gabhainn.
Trends in young people’s health and social determinants
‘Trends in young people’s health and social determinants’ is published today in The European Journal of Public Health. The study, led by St Andrews in Scotland, is the only study of its kind in Europe and North America.
It features 20 papers from researchers taking part in the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study, a cross-national collaboration with the WHO. HBSC Ireland is funded by the Department of Health.
The papers included in the report describe how trends can be interpreted when looking at patterns and differences between countries, across areas such as eating habits, obesity, physical activity, bullying, safe sex, communication at home, and the use of alcohol, tobacco and cannabis.
Despite the generally positive findings, many – if not the majority – of adolescents living in Europe and North America, still do not meet the recommendations for healthy living.
Critically, several key groups still remain at risk of poor health, with potentially damaging and long-lasting consequences.
The detailed analyses revealed that girls, older children and in particular those in Northern European countries experience lower levels of life satisfaction. Findings also reveal that in the majority of countries, children from less affluent families had more health complaints. This inequality has increased significantly over time in Ireland, as it has in Austria, Canada, France and Lithuania.
The report suggests that while the overall optimistic picture seems surprising considering that many countries faced a severe economic crisis in the last decade, policies and actions to improve public health were implemented in many countries in the same period. It also concludes that the general feeling that young people are better off today could also be attributed to changes in fashions, behavioural norms and societal values.
Dr Nic Gabhainn continued, “For almost 20 years the Irish HBSC study and research network has built up an increasingly detailed picture of trends and developments in adolescent health. This valuable database can support strategies to disrupt negative cycles that take root in the second decade and contribute to health inequities in the long-term. Policy makers can use this work to ensure that their decisions are targeted, effective and have their roots in the real world.
Evidence such as this give all of us an opportunity to act to secure the health of the next generation.”
Author: Marketing and Communications Office, NUI Galway