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Improving health
Previously NHS Health Scotland

Young people can experience a wide range of cognitive, biological and emotional changes as well as unique social transitions in their journey through adolescence. Their brains are growing at a rapid rate and have huge potential. With support and understanding from trusted adults around them they can take forward healthy behaviours and outcomes 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.
  • In the under 20 ages group, a female living in the most deprived areas is 5 times as likely to experience a pregnancy as someone living in the least deprived.
  • Good nutrition often falls short of national recommendations and 29% of children aged 12-15 years are at risk of being overweight including 15% at risk of obesity.
  • 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.

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

Pregnancy and Parenthood in Young People Strategy

The Scottish Government's PPYP strategy (external website) sets out what actions are needed in order to tackle the cycle of deprivation associated with many cases of pregnancy in young people and provides extra support for young parents. The strategy focuses on increasing the opportunities available to young people to support their wellbeing and prosperity across the life course. It aims to help young people develop the appropriate knowledge, skills and confidence in making decisions around pregnancy and parenthood through partnership approach between professionals and young people.

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.

Children and Young People’s Health Support group

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.

The Year of Young People

2018 will be The Year of Young People with activity happening across Scotland give young people the opportunity to inspire others through their ideas, attitudes and ambitions.

The theme of Scotland's national learning disability week (14-20 May 2018) "My Generation" will reflect the year of Young People and focus attention on experience of young people in Scotland with learning disabilities.

Get involved

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