Prioritising young people’s health

Commissioners and health leaders need support in making the case for spending on young people’s health.  There are so many competing demands on health funding, but very good arguments can be made to invest in this generally healthy age group.  Last week Public Health England (PHE) published ‘Improving Young People’s Health and Wellbeing: a framework for public health’. This sets out the benefits of a specific focus on young people, and raises important questions for local areas to consider when they are planning provision. Alongside the Framework, PHE also published a new data tool providing local authority-level data about the health of young people.

The Framework sets out some core principles that should underpin how we think about organising and commissioning health services for young people. These include recognising the importance of relationships to young people’s health, thinking about young people’s different stages of development and what this means for youth-friendly services. The Framework also highlights the importance of focusing on what helps young people to cope rather than emphasising health risks; reducing health inequalities; and providing joined up services.

The Framework was developed in collaboration with us at the Association for Young People’s Health and there are some take-home messages that we would like to emphasise:

  • The second decade of life is a critical age period when life-time health behaviours are formed. Although young people are generally healthy, in order for them to stay that way we need to pay attention during adolescence and provide the support and services they need.  Adolescence, as a fast changing period of development, offers a valuable point of intervention.
  • You can do prevention and early intervention with young people aged over 10 years old – it is not something confined to the 0-5s. Indeed, the majority of young people’s deaths aged 10-24 are from preventable causes, such as road traffic collisions and suicide.  Many health behaviours that show the greatest social inequalities, such as smoking, start in adolescence.

Early intervention isn’t something that has to stop at ten.

  •  The consequences of poor health in adolescence last a lifetime, and cost us all in the long run. For more on this, see this recent article on the cost benefits of investing in specialist mental health services for young people, published by the Centre for Mental Health.
  • We don’t do as well as we should for young people in England and Wales, when compared with other high-income countries, on indicators such as rates of teen conceptions and binge drinking
  • Young people want a youth friendly approach that provides holistic support, from people who understand confidentiality.

We hope that the Framework will help highlight the importance of young people’s health and get it on the agenda for those providing public health services.  We also hope that it will help to change the way we tend to think about young people’s health and how to manage and improve it in a way that suits young people themselves.  It is important to move on from thinking about individual health topics in isolation and concentrating solely on managing risky health behaviour, to an approach that considers the needs of the young person in a more holistic way. As Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive of Public Health England, notes in his introduction to the Framework, this means young people have to be placed at the centre of service design and delivery.

About the author: Dr Ann Hagell is Research Lead at the Association for Young People’s Health (AYPH).

Public Health England’s ‘Improving Young People’s Health and Wellbeing: a framework for public health’ is available to download here.

Image source: Phae, via

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