An international comparative study found that despite young people in the UK making better choices about their health, particularly in terms of alcohol consumption and smoking, they experience “worse health and wellbeing outcomes than those in many other similar countries.”
The study was carried out by independent health think tank Nuffield Trust and the Association for Young People’s Health (AYPH).
It compared the UK with 18 high-income countries based on 17 indications of health and well-being of young people aged ten to 24 years old between the mid-1990s and 2018.
According to the report, the UK has the highest death rate from asthma in Europe across three age groups; ten to 14, 15 to 19 and 20 to 24. The UK’s figure is around twice as high as the next worse country in Europe, Ireland.
The country also has the fourth highest asthma-related death rate for the whole age range in all comparator countries, behind the US, Australia and New Zealand, and the second highest for 15 to 19 year olds, behind only New Zealand.
Additionally, the report found almost one in five young people in the UK live with a long-standing health condition; it has the third highest rate in the 14 European comparator countries, with only Finland and Sweden with a higher number. This indicator has been worsening in the UK over the past decade; the proportion of ten to 24 year olds living with a long-term health condition was 13.5% in 2008.
Although the UK has better than average adolescent mortality rates, improvement that has been made in this indicator has stalled and the mortality rate has worsened for 20 to 24 year olds.
This trend is attributed by the report authors to the failure of health services and policymakers to support young people with health conditions manage their care.
Nuffield Trust chief executive Nigel Edwards said: “Making sure we have a healthy population requires us all to do our bit. 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.
“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.
“If we don’t take action now, the next generation will be entering adulthood sicker than the one before it.”
AYPH patron and chair of All Party Parliamentary Group for Young People’s Health Baroness Doreen Massey of Darwen said: “This comprehensive report is a wake-up call to improve health services for our young people and is a timely inspiration in the wake of the new NHS Long Term Plan. Investment in young people aged ten to 24 is urgently needed in order to have healthy adults in the future.
“It is encouraging to see that young people are taking the initiative to have healthier lives in some areas, but policy initiatives and youth friendly services are needed, coupled with more action to tackle determinants of health including deprivation, inequality and young people not in education, employment and training.”