Young people can experience a wide range of cognitive, biological and emotional changes as well as unique social transitions in their journey through adolescence. All of these factors can impact upon their health and wellbeing and many health behaviours are adopted during this time which continue into adulthood.

You will find evidence on effective action and training relating to youth health below.

  • Levels of physical activity tend to decline across adolescence, particularly in young women.
  • Teenage pregnancy rates among under 16s are five times higher in the most deprived areas.
  • Good nutrition often falls short of national recommendations and around one in five school pupils aged 11-15 is obese.
  • Youth and adolescence is a key life stage for establishing health related attitudes and behaviours, which can be influenced through
    • peers
    • family
    • school
    • educational opportunities
    • social networks and relationships.
  • Socio-economic deprivation has a clear relationship with mental health problems in childhood and adolescence. Children and adolescents from socio-economically disadvantaged families are three times more likely to develop mental health problems than peers from more affluent areas.

You can read more data on young people’s health and wellbeing on the Scottish Public Health Observatory (ScotPHO) website (external).

Young people and health inequalities

Young people encountering poverty and living in the most deprived areas of Scotland experience significantly worse health outcomes than those living in the least deprived areas.

In Scotland, around 20% of children and young people are identified as experiencing relative poverty while 10% live in absolute poverty. This has an immediate impact on a number of health related outcomes, including increased levels of mental health problems (including anxiety and self-harm), sexual health and substance misuse.

In addition, children and young people who have experienced adverse family circumstances such as trauma, abuse and neglect also have poorer health outcomes. This is particularly true for looked after children, those who are homeless and those who have experienced the youth justice system.

Improving the health of young people and addressing health inequalities calls for multiple actions across many public policy areas including

  • poverty
  • housing
  • education
  • access to health services
  • health related behaviours
  • social and physical environments.

Local action

Our reviews of evidence can inform decisions on taking effective action. ‘Interventions to support parents of older children and adolescents’ highlights the public health interventions which support parents and carers of children and young people aged 7 to 19 years.

You may want to download our summary of the evidence on the effectiveness of alcohol brief interventions (ABIs) with young people. ABIs are short, evidence-based, structured, and non-confrontational conversations about alcohol consumption.

Healthy Young Lives (external website) is a half day elearning course on our virtual learning environment for youth work and social care staff. It is designed to increase awareness of how to promote healthy behaviours and encourage healthy lifestyles of young people.

The Scottish Mental Health First Aid: Young People course (external website) offers general information about mental health issues and builds confidence around approaching a young person in distress.

National action

The Children and Young People’s Health Support group (external website) is an expert Ministerial advisory group on children and young people’s health in Scotland. It focuses on health improvement and health services for children and young people and includes

  • circulars
  • publications
  • minutes of meetings.

You may also want to download our Outcomes Framework for Pregnancy and Parenthood in Young People. The framework supports the Scottish Government’s national strategy.

Contact the Youth Health team to sign up for our e-bulletin, for the latest news on youth health.