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Young people’s health and well-being

The Labour government 1997-2010 made being healthy one of the five outcomes for its Every Child Matters programme. This programme set out the government’s vision for children and young people. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat government elected in 2010 is unlikely to continue with the Every Child Matters programme, but young people’s health will remain an important agenda for future governments.

Young people are at the centre of debates around the nation’s physical health. Media coverage of young people often focuses on risk-taking behaviour that threatens their long-term health, such as drug-taking, sexual promiscuity and poor dietary and exercise habits. Yet it is often the media’s focus on celebrity culture which influences such risk-taking behaviour in young people.[1] Celebrity culture also has an effect on mental health, for example, through its impact on young people’s body image.

Other drivers that impact on young people’s mental and physical health include unemployment, and the amount of time young people spend indoors. The latter may be due to the perceived risks of playing outside, and because many young people have limited access to outdoor public spaces. Young people may also stay indoors because they can easily access technology which provides entertainment at the touch of a button. Some young people are at risk of never switching off, and this has implications for their well-being.

What are the implications?

  • Future generations may be less physically and mentally healthy, which is likely to impact on their employability.
  • Young people with problems with their physical and mental health may become increasingly withdrawn from society, and may struggle to access services.
  • With an ageing population, which is likely to be less physically active, there may be a need for young people and those who support them to be at the forefront of campaigns to increase awareness of the importance of physical health.
  • What can be done about the cycle where declining physical health leads to a decline in mental health and vice-versa?
  • Will there be places for young people to play in, and will young people’s expectations around play become more about online games than outdoor games?
  • Will you need to extend the services you offer to deal with the growing number of health issues surrounding young people? Or can you link up with other organisations who offer such services?
  • The 2012 Olympics may lead to a temporary increase in physical activity.
  • What will the growing impact of the media and advertising on young people mean for their future health and self-perception?

Moving forward

  • What does the declining level of physical activity mean for young people?
  • How will young people mentally cope with the economic downturn and its consequences, including unemployment?
  • How can the Voluntary and Community Sector (CVS) support young people’s mental and physical health? Can the VCS work to intervene early, rather than dealing with the consequences of poor health outcomes, which requires much more investment? How can the VCS support young people as they undergo the transition to adult health services?
  • How can the VCS show that health problems can best be tackled by the holistic approach offered by VCS? Can the VCS show that its work on young people’s health issues reduces the large societal costs of ill-health?
  • How can the VCS influence debates around young people’s health (e.g. to ensure that debates around body weight are about health and exercise, not about being skinny rather than obese)? Can the VCS show leadership around the promotion of good mental and physical health for young people?
  • What can the VCS do to ensure that young people benefit from changes that are personalising health care and giving young people more control over the health services they use?
  • How can the VCS combine activities that improve mental and physical health with giving young people skills that will enable them to participate effectively in society?
  • How can young people engage positively with the 2012 Olympics and how can the VCS help this engagement to have a long term impact?
  • Are some groups of young people, such as minorities and harder-to-reach young people, particularly affected by poor health and what can your organisation do to tackle this issue?

Want to know more?

On the state of public health: Annual report of the Chief Medical Officer 2009

Published by: Department of Health

Date: March 2010

What is it? An overview of the current state of public health in the UK.

How useful is it? A useful summary of the current health situation.

Other comments: It gives a good picture of the costs of ill-health. This may help VCOs who support young people’s health to evidence the impact of their work.

Achieving Equity and Excellence for Children

Published by: Department of Health

Date: September 2010

What is it? The 2010 Coalition government’s vision of how proposed new arrangements for the NHS could improve services for children and young people.

How useful is it? It gives the picture of the government’s vision for young people’s health services, which VCOs working with young people will need to understand.

Under Strain

Published by: Youth Access

Date: April 2010

What is it? A report detailing the overwhelming demand for youth advice and counselling services.

How useful is it? It highlights many of the health issues faced by young people and reports concerns that the there is not enough support available for this.

Mental health of children and young people

Published by: New Philanthropy Capital

Date: November 2008

What is it? A report detailing how charities are helping young people recover from mental health problems.

How useful is it? It analyses the mental health needs of young people, and highlights opportunities for charities working with young people.



Last updated at 14:32 Thu 20/Jan/11.

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How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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