UK government letting down young people by failing to tackle health inequalities, report warns

UK youth more likely to contract fatal long-term conditions than other western nations due to NHS underfunding, study claims

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Wednesday 20 February 2019 01:09 GMT
Young asthma sufferers in Britain twice as likely to die as in other European nations
Young asthma sufferers in Britain twice as likely to die as in other European nations

Young people in the UK are more likely to develop a long-term condition which may kill them or deny them years of healthy life, compared to European and western nations, a report has found.

Britian is “letting down its side of the bargain” with young people, who are drinking and smoking less than ever but are being failed by underefunded health services and economic inequalities.

Obesity and asthma care are two key areas where 10-to-24-year-olds’ health outcomes are lagging behind, according to a report comparing 18 countries led by the Nuffield Trust and Association for Young People’s Health (AYPH).

The UK has the highest rates of asthma deaths of any country in the the study, more than double the next European country, the report found.

Older teens are also more likely to be obese than any other European country, particularly those growing up in poorer areas.

“Despite living in the world’s fifth-largest economy, young people aged 20 to 24 in the UK are experiencing one of the highest rates of severe material deprivation among the countries in our international comparison,” the report said.

“Reducing poverty among young people is key to improving their health outcomes in the UK.”

England has the highest proportion of young people aged 16 to 24 living with a longstanding health condition, rising from 13.5 per cent of this age group in 2008 to 18.5 per cent in 2016.

This was higher than in other European countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Greece and Spain and this issue has grown over the past decade and is continuing to rise.

It also lags behind on hours of exercise, reducing teenage birth rates among 15-to-19-year-olds, and young people in education, training or employment.

“More than ever, young people are holding up their side of the bargain, with more of them choosing to smoke and drink less, yet our health system seems to be getting something badly wrong. I worry this reflects a dangerous complacency,” Nuffield Trust chief executive Nigel Edwards said.

“Young people in the UK are entering adulthood with more long-term health conditions and, as a result, a poorer quality of life, storing up problems further down the line.”

Without action they will end up sicker than their parents, he said.

“This report highlights yet again how far the UK is lagging behind other countries on a range of health measures,” Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said.

The recent NHS long term plan is an opportunity to tackle these issues, Prof Viner said. But he warned that without reversing cuts to public health budgets and tackling economic inequality, “the UK has little chance of catching up with its European neighbours any time soon.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We have world-leading plans in place to safeguard child health by combatting obesity, improving mental health and vaccinating against some of the world's deadliest diseases."

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