Unhealthy, unhappy and with no self-esteem: British teenagers lag behind world's young

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

They drink too much, smoke too much, feel under massive work pressures and don't even really like each other - British children are among the unhealthiest and unhappiest in the world, according to a report published today.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) study of more than 150,000 young people in 35 countries found that the physical and mental health of children in the UK is more like that of poverty-stricken former communist nations than our western European neighbours.

Teenagers in England in particular but also their counterparts in Scotland and Wales, have some of the highest rates of drinking, smoking, drug use and underage sex - and the lowest levels of life satisfaction, fruit consumption and feelings of physical well-being.

The WHO survey on Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) is conducted every four years and interviews 11, 13 and 15-year-olds from the United States, Canada and nearly all eastern and western European countries.

It is the largest international study of adolescent attitudes and provides an intriguing - and worrying - snapshot into the lives of British teenagers compared with their peers across the world.

English 13-year-olds are the least likely in the world to believe their peers are "kind and helpful", while only Russian 11-year-olds and Czech 15-year-olds had a lower opinion of their generation than the same age groups in England.

Less than half of all the English adolescents saw each other as kind and helpful, compared with the study's average of 60 per cent.

A third of English, Scottish and Welsh girls rated their health as only fair or poor, with only their peers in Ukraine, Lithuania and Latvia feeling worse off. Fewer than one in five girls in Spain, Italy and Switzerland feel the same way.

When the children were asked about quality of life, England was in the bottom half of the league alongside former eastern bloc countries, while Dutch, Swedish and Greek young people were the happiest.

However, English and Welsh youngsters have the highest rates of drinking and get drunk at a younger age than children from most other countries.

While they have below average hours of homework, with only a quarter of 15-year-olds spending more than three hours a day on after-school assignments, they feel under greater stress. Six out of 10 boys and seven out of 10 girls aged 15 in England say they feel pressured by schoolwork, with only Lithuanian and Welsh peers reporting greater stress.

Campaigners said the failure to tackle the public health problems affecting young people was causing a self-perpetuating cycle of abuse.

Anne Jenkins, the head of research at the charity Alcohol Concern, said: "We have got a situation where young teenagers are simply replicating what they see the next age group up from them doing; getting drunk, binge drinking and drinking regularly."

Throughout the survey, English children rated alongside Eastern Europe rather than with nations such as France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

One in three children from all the age groups in England watches more than four hours of television per weekday, compared with the WHO average of one in five.

A third of 11-year-old children from this country go without breakfast on school days, while 90 per cent of their Portuguese peers start every day with a morning meal. Only children from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland eat less fruit than English and Welsh youngsters.

More than half of teenage boys and a third of teenagegirls in England admitted they had been involved in a fight in the past 12 months - double the rate of German children.

Health experts said the study should help countries to develop long-term policies to improve the health of young people. Marc Danzon, the WHO regional director said: "Looking after the health of young people is of vital importance.

"We know that attitudes, behaviour and lifestyle patterns strongly influence well-being and are shaped at an early age. It is important to know what factors determine these lifelong patterns."

Comments