The second decade of life is usually a healthy stage. But we can’t be complacent. Good physical and mental health in adolescence is central to wellbeing, and the bedrock for good health in later life. Investing in young people’s health potentially provides huge dividends.
The Association for Young People’s Health provides regular updates on what we know about the trends in young people’s health and recent policy developments. Our latest paper on this has just been published.
Four main themes in the report are worth highlighting. First, many of the trends are positive. For example, smoking, drinking, drug use and under-18 conceptions are all falling. This is very encouraging. Some of these changes may be the result of demographic change, or cultural shifts, but some will be the result of concerted, long-term work to address important health issues with this age group. However, the actual rates of some health problems are still high in comparison to other similar, high income countries. The UK has not matched the gains in reducing adolescent and young adult deaths that other countries have witnessed in recent decades.
Second, we’re particularly concerned about the lack of trend data on young people’s mental health problems. There have been no new nationally representative data since 2004, when some behavioural and emotional problems in 11-15 year olds looked as if they were levelling off. Some indicators are beginning to suggest that perhaps self-harm is increasing – we desperately need new, robust data to help shape service provision in this area. Despite NHS England’s IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) programme, there is widespread concern about the limitations of the reach of adolescent mental health services.
Third, there are some interesting new topics in young people’s health receiving particular attention in the UK at the moment, where research developments are likely to occur in the next few years. It’s particularly worth drawing attention to brain development, sleep habits, adolescent nutrition, and the impact of the digital world. Anecdotal reports of rises in bullying, social pressure to conform, and sleep disruption -arising from problematic use of new forms of media – mean that we need to continue to research the health implications of these.
Fourth, the shake-up of commissioning of young people’s health services means there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that young people’s needs are addressed and some key health issues for this age group do not drop off the radar. One priority for the next couple of years is to move young people’s health needs up the national agenda.
About the author: Dr Ann Hagell is Research Lead at the Association for Young People’s Health (AYPH).
The paper was funded by the Child and Maternal (ChiMat) Health Intellligence Network led by Public Health England, which has a dedicated page on their website providing links to the supporting datasets mentioned in the paper.
Image: Luci Correia, via Flickr