The health of Scotland’s youth

Thursday 22 October 2015

A new report on the health of Scottish youth has found declining mental health patterns among 13-15 year old girls.

The study into the health and wellbeing of young people in Scotland aged 11, 13 and 15 was carried out by academics at the University of St Andrews.

Young people reported their feelings and habits, including those relating to family life, school, peer relations, eating habits, physical activity, body image, substance use, sexual health and bullying.

Although young people in Scotland generally report high life-satisfaction (87%), the new report found a wide gender gap in mental health with substantially more girls than boys reporting psychological stress, health complaints (including nervousness and low mood) and medicine use. This gender gap is especially wide for 15-year olds.  Over half of 15-year old girls (54%) report having two or more health complaints more than once a week, compared to 29% of boys this age.

The report, commissioned by NHS Health Scotland, is to be launched at an event in Edinburgh today (Thursday 22nd October).

The study offers key indicators on health, wellbeing and social context of young people in Scotland and provides trends over a 24 year period. Moreover, this study is part of an international study that covers 43 other countries. International comparison will be available once the international report is launched in March 2016.

The Principal Investigator for the study was Candace Currie, Professor of Child and Adolescent Health and Director of CAHRU (Child and Adolescent Health Research Unit) at the University of St Andrews.  She said, “We have observed concerning changes in teenage girls’ mental health, especially over the past four years. In 2014 15-year old girls are around twice as likely as boys to report irritability, nervousness and low mood.  Moreover, for boys and girls of all ages there has been relatively little improvement in some key health behaviours such as fruit and vegetable consumption over the past 12 years. There are also some good news stories. For example, we have seen dramatic reductions in some risky behaviours, such as smoking, alcohol consumption and early sexual intercourse for some groups.”

Amongst the headline findings, researchers noted an increase in young people feeling pressured by schoolwork since 2006, especially amongst 15 year old girls (80% compared to 60% boys). However, 62% of young people report a high level of parental support and over half report daily electronic media communication with their friends.

The findings also suggest a decline in the proportion of 15 year old girls (from 35% to 27%) having sex, however those that did report a decrease (58%) in condom use, compared to 2010 (72%). One third of young people report not using a condom or birth control pills at the time of last intercourse.

Researchers also found that whilst physical fighting amongst boys has decreased, there has been an increase in young people being bullied – with 9% of 13 year old girls saying they are bullied via by electronic messaging at least twice a month.

Girls were also twice as likely as boys to be on a diet to lose weight and 13-15 year old girls are considerably less likely to report that they feel good looking, compared to boys the same age. Over half of 15-year old girls (55%) report that their body is too fat, despite only 10% of this group being classified as overweight or obese according to self-reported height and weight.

Findings from the report also suggest that although smoking amongst 15 year olds has decreased dramatically over the last two decades, 14% say they currently smoke.  Similarly, weekly alcohol consumption has decreased substantially since 1998, with 17% of 15 year old boys and 11% girls saying they drink at least once a week.

Of those surveyed, fewer than one in five young people meet the Scottish Government’s physical activity guidelines of at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day. Moreover, 64% report watching television for two or more hours a day and 65% of boys report playing computer games for at least two hours a day.

Professor Currie and her colleagues will present the findings of the study at a meeting in Edinburgh today (Thursday 22 October) alongside representatives from the Scottish Government and NHS Health Scotland.

Dr Gerry McCartney, Public Health Consultant and Head of Public Health Observatory Division at NHS Health Scotland which commissioned the 2014 HBSC survey, said: “This high quality survey provides the only means for comparing the health, wellbeing and social circumstances of children and young people in Scotland with those in 43 other countries. It provides a hugely important dataset to allow the exploration of the causes, variation and inequalities in outcomes between and within countries over time.

“We are considering the future survey landscape for children and young people in Scotland to ensure that we make best use of the resources available. This work has already identified that having the ability to compare Scottish data internationally is important and valuable in helping us maximise the positive impact of research, policy and practice on the health and wellbeing outcomes for our children and young people.”

The 7th Scottish Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study follows surveys carried out in 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010.

The study will also be presented at a European Ministerial Conference hosted by the World Health Organization in Minsk, Belarus.  Dorothy Currie and Joseph Hancock from CAHRU will disseminate the findings from the HBSC study at the international event also taking place this week.

The report will be available through the CAHRU website.

Notes to editors:

Copies of the report are available from the University of St Andrews Press Office – contacts below.

Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews. Contact Gayle Cook, Senior Communications Manager on 01334 467227, email [email protected]

For further information on the study contact [email protected] or follow them on twitter @HBSCScotland

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