A snapshot of young people's health
The latest edition of the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study, published in May, gathered data from 39 countries across Europe and North America, and involved 200,000 young people aged 11, 13 and 15. The study coordinated by the World Health Organization is a key data source on youth health in Europe.
As adolescence is a critical time in determining people's future health status, the study is especially important. Young people are beginning to make the transition from childhood to adulthood. They are gaining autonomy from their parents and starting to make their own choices about their health. Health behaviours they adopt at this time of their life are likely to translate into long-term health patterns that will continue into adulthood.
What the study shows
This year's study focuses on social determinants of health and well-being among young people and shows that young people are, in general, in good health. However, the report highlights issues in a number of areas.
Firstly, social environment could be an opportunity for better health. Parents who communicate easily with their children can contribute to their overall health and well-being, but ease of communication decreases with age and is less likely to be reported in poorer households. Similarly, school climate is increasingly not meeting students' basic psychological needs. A supportive school environment can be used to develop positive health outcomes.
Secondly, gender differences exist. Girls have lower satisfaction in life than boys and they report poorer body image. This affects their mental health status and, as a result, they are also more likely to adopt risky weight-reduction behaviour, which may affect their health. Boys, on the contrary, tend to gain muscles and have a good body image, but poor nutrition habits. Boys are also more likely to adopt risky health behaviours such as alcohol misuse or tobacco consumption or activities where they will get injured.
Thirdly, socioeconomic status and country differences create inequalities. Socioeconomic status may influence health status and perceived health. Overweight and obesity are more likely to be found in poorer households in Western Europe whereas richer households are more likely to instil healthy behaviours in children with regards to fruit intake and regular physical activity, for instance.
Why it is important
HBSC offers reliable data which identifies risk factors for young people's ill-health. This gives policy-makers the opportunity to better match young people's needs in terms of health promotion.