Contemporary issues in youth policy

As an area of youth policy, health is multidimensional, and relates to the “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Health is a right recognised in international human rights conventions and charters, including the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Social Charter.

According to the Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health and Wellbeing, investments targeted specifically at young people are also shown to underpin wellbeing across the entire life-course, yielding a “triple dividends of benefits”. This means that when the health outcomes of a young person are improved today, it impacts their health trajectories as an adult in the future, and the welfare of the next generation of young people, when those adults become parents. The physical, cognitive, social, and emotional wellbeing of young people also affects their capacity to engage effectively in work and leisure, family life, and communities.

The WHO describes that most young people in Europe enjoy a high standard of health and wellbeing. However concerns remain regarding:

  • Mental health
  • Physical activity
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Sexual health
  • Tobacco use
  • Nutrition

Moreover, the right to participation and the involvement of young people in decisions that impact them, takes on increased relevance with regards to their health and wellbeing. This relates to issues of access to youth-friendly information and services, including sexual and reproductive health services, confidential medical advice, and providing consent to medical treatments.

Young people in Europe identified mental health as a particular concern in the Youth Goals, as EU-28 statistics show that intentional self-harm was the most frequent cause of death among young people (15-29 years) in 2014. Good emotional and mental health (in additional to physical health) enables young people to deal with the challenges of adolescence, and are strongly influenced by life experiences and relationships. Mental wellbeing in youth is an essential determinant of mental health later in life: about half of all mental health problems in adulthood have their onset during or before adolescence.

The 2016 Council of Europe Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers to Member States on young people's access to rights calls on member states to “ensure easy and timely access to mental health services, such as those tackling eating disorders and addictions among young people”.

Recommended resources

Council of Europe: Recommendation CM/Rec (2016)7 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on young people's access to rights


This page was last updated by Cristina Bacalso and Dan Moxon in December 2018.

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