Europe’s teenagers health and well being at risk?

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Recently WHO Region of Europe published the “Health behaviour in school-aged children (HSBC) study: International Report from the 2009/2010 survey”. Data is collected on boys and girls in the age of 11, 13 and 15 years old and over 200,000 children were interviewed, the survey is published every four years. According to the report, the aim is to collect data on national and international level to gain new insight into young people’s health and well-being, understanding the social determinants of health and inform policy and practice to improve the lives of young people. As stated in the report:

In general, young people in the WHO European Region enjoy better health and development than ever before, but are failing to achieve their full health potential”.

The main findings of the study showed that girls body image and unhealthy patterns such as extreme dieting are concerning. In Austria, Belgium, Germany, Norway, Poland and Portugal 50% or more of 15 year old girls think that they are too fat.

Only 12 % of 15 year girls in England report at least one hour of daily moderate to vigorous physical activity, at the age of 11 this was still 20%. BBC health published an article on the 2nd of May referring to a recent study conducted by the Loughborough University that the gap between boys and girls, regarding physical activity already starts during P.E. classes at school. Schools are therefore encouraged to introduce more girl friendly sports such as Zumba, aerobics or rollerblading.

Social media usage such as Facebook or Twitter as well electronic devices such as mobile phones increased in almost all countries by 15 %.  The report identified Cyber bullying as a public health problem that may threaten young people’s social and emotional development. Engagement to risky behaviour and poor health determinants such as poor sleeping habits and poorer perceptions of health have also been measured in relation to usage of social media and electronic devices. On Wednesday 2nd of May the European Commission presented a strategy to give children the digital skills and tools they need to benefit fully and safely from the digital world, reported by Euroalert. The strategy encourages businesses to develop child friendly content, creating a safe environment online, raise awareness of the risks that could be encountered by children and educating them about the right tools to use to protect themselves. In addition, an important issue which needs to be tackled is sexual abuse and exploitation of children.

Professor Candace Currie who is the international study coordinator said in an interview with WHO Europe: that there’s quite clear gender equalization going on in the western countries, whereas there are still quite big gender gaps in drinking and sexual behaviour in the east. Furthermore she stayed that: If girls are now behaving like boys in terms of risk, but they’re still showing worse mental health outcomes, then that leads to the conclusion that girls are under a greater burden of potential ill health than boys. They’re suffering at two levels. Previously, on the whole girls had healthier lifestyles but more mental health issues than boys. Now they’re adopting risk behaviour that was previously in the male domain.

The study shows that we need to pay more attention to health and wellbeing of teenage boys and girls in Europe. While being in the transition of childhood to becoming young adults it is of utmost important to emphasise and teach them a healthy lifestyle, having a balanced diet and enough physical activity since an early adaptation of it sets the foundation of a long healthy life. In addition, attention needs to be paid to their mental health, prevention of risky behaviour and securing their rights within social media and internet usage.

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