The latest trends in young people’s health and lifestyle have been published by the Association for Young People’s Health this month, in Key Data on Adolescence 2015 (KDA, http://www.youngpeopleshealth.org.uk/key-data-on-adolescence). Adolescence is a critical time for laying the foundation for health and wellbeing in adulthood. By providing an accessible and free resource summarising the data about this age group we hope that we can promote more understanding about their particular health needs.
We are often asked what’s new, what’s interesting, and what’s surprising. Overall, KDA shows that many of the trends in health behaviours and health outcomes for young people are positive. Proportions drinking, numbers smoking, rates of teenage pregnancy – these are all at the lowest rates for decades.
But new forms of substance misuse, including legal highs, have emerged since 1997, posing an (as yet) unknown threat, and there is a new trend for experimentation with e-cigarettes to be reported by something between 8-20% of secondary school children. Obesity rates do not seem to be increasing but neither are they declining. And there are clearly small groups of particularly vulnerable young people, including those living in situations of economic hardship, whose health is much less positive. Nearly two million young people aged 10-19 live in the most deprived areas of England. Fifteen percent of secondary school children are eligible for free school meals. Deprivation is linked to a range of health outcomes in adolescence including obesity.
And of course mental health continues to be a major concern. In the face of a lack of a new representative survey of the mental health problems of this age group, we have to rely on indicators such as hospital admissions data. Some of these are flashing warning signs – for example, last year a total of 41,921 young people aged 10-24 were admitted to hospital for self-harm through either cutting, poisoning and other methods. Rates for hospital admissions for self-harm have risen over recent years.
So many things could be done to improve our health offer to this age group. Two things we are prioritising are the need to improve mental health provision for those who do not get to see formal child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), and the promotion of more youth friendly services. Our conference next February in Manchester on promoting young people’s health will offer us an opportunity to explore these issues in more detail with practitioners, researchers and policymakers, and we hope some of you will be able to join us (http://www.youngpeopleshealth.org.uk/events).
Dr Ann Hagell, Research Lead, Association for Young People’s Health