Bid to improve young health

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A GOVERNMENT initiative to improve the health of young people will be launched tomorrow.

In a move to strengthen the Government's "health of the nation" strategy, Virginia Bottomley, the health secretary, will announce a number of measures to improve access to health services for the young.

The initiative aims to achieve immediate benefits to young people's health and encourage a healthy lifestyle which will be carried through to adult life.

Figures show that the number of young people aged between 10 and 19 in England and Wales has been decreasing, from 7.5 million in 1982 to 5.9 million in 1992, but this trend is expected to reverse, reaching 6.4 million in 2002.

The major causes of death among young people are injury and poisoning, neoplasms (for example, tumours) and nervous system diseases. Of the 1,755 10-19 year olds who died in 1992, 473 were between the ages of 10-14, and 1,282 were aged 15-19. The majority of deaths were due to accidents, but the number due to this factor is declining.

A "health of the young nation" conference in London will focus on areas which are contributing to more deaths, including depression among young men, drug and solvent abuse, alcohol abuse and smoking. The suicide rate among young men is increasing and deliberate self-harm is increasing among young females. While severe mental illness is rare in children and uncommon in young adults, between 10-20 per cent of children may require help due to mental health problems.

"Reducing unemployment would be the single most important step the Government could take to improve the state of young people's health," said Dr Aidan Macfarlane, director of the National Adolescent and Student Health Unit in Oxford.

Peter Wilson, director of the charity Young Minds, said 4-5 per cent of children below 12 suffered some form of mental distress and 2 per cent of children in a typical primary school would suffer from depression.