Young people's health in Europe
As a starting point, one can remind that, compared to the other age groups, young people in Europe generally enjoy a good health. According to the report on the State of young people's health in Europe (2000), life expectancy at the age of 15 is 60.3 years for males and 66.4 years for females and is increasing. About 75% of young people self rate their health as good.
Nevertheless, young people's health appears to vary considerably across European countries and is strongly related to social and environmental determinants. As demonstrated by Dahlgren (1995) different layers of determinants may influence individuals' health status. They can be ranged from general socioeconomic, cultural and environmental conditions (such as food, education, work environment, housing, health care services) to social and community networks and individual lifestyles. As a consequence, the struggle against health inequalities can be considered as a major stake for policy makers.
Without pretending to offer a complete overview of young people's health in Europe, several facts can be underlined:
- There is a lack of comparable information on young people's health conditions in Europe;
- Traffic accidents are the first reason of premature death; suicides account for one in ten premature deaths;
- Young males are three more times more exposed to premature deaths than young females;
- Some chronic conditions such as asthma, allergic disorders, diabetes and obesity - are increasing.
Part of young people's health problems are related to their lifestyles and to risk behaviours that commonly appear as an attribute of youth or teenage. In this perspective, one can point out several problems typical for this age group: alcohol, tobacco and drug consumption could be considered under this issue as well as eating disorders, sedentary behaviour or violence.
A growing attention is paid today to the question of mental health and well being of young people. According to the WHO report on Mental health: "four per cent of 12–17-year-olds and nine per cent of 18-year-olds suffer from depression, making it one of the most prevalent disorders with wideranging consequences. Young girls are now diagnosed more frequently than in the past with mental disorders and particularly with depressive symptoms. Depression is associated with youth suicide, which is a major problem in many countries and the third leading cause of death in young people" (2005, p. 83). In it's Resolution 1608 (2008) titled "Child and teenage suicide in Europe: A serious public-health issue" the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly calls on it's member states to pay increased attention to the phenomenon of child and teenage suicide and to take measures tackling the underlying causes.
Beyond mental health, the question of well/ill being is now increasingly examined. When questioned about their health, a quarter of young people and in particular young females tend to declare that their health is poor (27,2% of the 15-year-old girls and 16,1% of the15-year-old boys according to Currie C. (2004, p. 57).. According to a recent survey among French university students, factors like economic dependency toward families, failures in the education system or isolation seem to accentuate this "ill" being phenomenon (LMDE, 2007).
To conclude, one can emphasize that the issue of young people's health benefits from a growing process of agenda setting at all decision levels (from the European to the local decision making processes). The WHO's European strategy for child and adolescent health and development plaids for the commitment of European states in the improvement of young people's health and in the reduction of health inequalities. The European commission, for its part, promotes public actions in favour of health in general through its DG Health and Consumer Protection but also through youth action. As an example, one can refer to the ongoing Youth in Action Programme that encourages projects on health problems (especially chronic health problems, severe illnesses or psychiatric conditions).
Text drafted by Patricia Loncle for the Youth Partnership