Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Youth Engagement at the HBSC Conference

Youth engagement was a key element of the recent Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) conference. Youth delegates from England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Canada attended the conference in St Andrews between 18th and 21st June. Six youth delegates from England travelled up to Scotland; Maddie, Holly and Kathryn from Bedford Modern School and Claudia, Aminah and Sophie from Hitchin Girls School.

On the first day of the conference the youth delegates co-presented a scientific paper on the topic of bullying with Professor Fiona Brooks (University of Hertfordshire), Professor John Freeman (Queen’s University, Canada) and the Canadian youth delegates. The girls also attended a number of seminars, in which they actively encouraged and contributed to the debate through well informed questions and comments. On the second day the youth delegates presented their perspectives on health to the whole conference of 250 delegates; the England team focused primarily on the topics of body image and family communication. After their presentation they invited questions from the audience, which they proceeded to answer with a great sense of insight and awareness. Throughout the second day, the girls also interviewed a number of the conference delegates on their views surrounding youth engagement within research.  They talked to delegates from across Europe and Canada, including representatives from The Scottish Government, The World Health Organisation and NICE England. 
Above: Presenting to the conference delegates on the topic of body image.

The youth delegates were excellent ambassadors for young people, and the views they expressed were both insightful and applicable to the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study. The young people’s participation within the conference highlighted the importance and benefit of including young people within the study. Candace Currie, the International Co-ordinator of HBSC, said, “It was great to witness the power of youth participation. I was really impressed with the potential for a different kind of dialogue and engagement with young people as stakeholders in research.”
Above: Our fantastic youth delegates from England!
For more information about youth engagement within HBSC England check out our other blog posts: "Involving the people that matter: A day with our young researchers" and "Youth Participation".
Kayleigh Chester


Thursday, 11 July 2013

Are the youth of today really as lazy as the media suggest?

(This is a guest post by Joe Wilson who is currently doing an internship with HBSC England)

The last national report for HBSC England shows that only about a third of 11 year old boys, and less than a fifth of 11 year old girls, meet the recommended levels of physical activity. Participation in physical activity decreases with age, so by the time they hit 15 years of age even fewer young people meet the recommended target of at least one hour per day (Brooks et al. 2011). It seems to be common knowledge that children and adolescents are considered to be lazy by media outlets and wider society in general. An example of this can be quoted from Broers (2010) who suggests that young people are ‘probably lazier than ever before’. They go on to say that ‘teens do struggle with pulling themselves off the couch, just as much as they did 20 years ago. But in today’s world there is much more keeping them sitting’. This article will look at the way in which the media portrays young people of today in terms of their declining exercise rates and will look to offer reasons as to why this is the case.

Whilst doing a scan of the immediate media outlets, it is evident to see a clear pattern of negativity towards young people in terms of their exercise rates and general laziness. CBC News (2011) suggests that in Canada, only 7% of young people aged between 6 and 19 participated in enough exercise to be able to see the health benefits. This goes to show that exercise rates have been decreasing in recent years and media agencies have been picking up on such statistics in order to label the youth of today as ‘lazy’. The Washington Times (2008) is another example of a media agency claiming that young people of today have become lazy. It suggests that perhaps young people become lazy as they become older: 90% of children aged 9 in the USA get at least a couple of hours of exercise each day, which is a huge contrast to teenagers aged 15 in the same nation where less than a third get the same amount of exercise each day.

The Daily Mail (2004) points the blame of falling exercise rates of adolescents towards the parents. It suggests that most parents do not care if their child gets the required amount of exercise. It goes on to say that four out of five parents claimed that they were unconcerned about their children being inactive. Woodhouse (2012) adds to this by saying that parents need to be stricter with their children when it comes to exercise, and not let excuses such as the weather result in letting children play video games rather than going outside to play.

However, Singhateh (2013) disagrees with the media labelling young people as being lazy and instead cites the reason for the falling rate of youth exercise is in fact the lack of opportunities available for young people to get involved with sport. Lowry et al. (2005) also agree with this suggesting that a lack of sporting opportunities within the schooling system is to blame for the low exercise rates within children and adolescents. Fox (2012) also extends on this claiming that even Prince Harry believed that there are not enough opportunities for young people to participate in sport. At the 2012 London Olympic Games, there was a clear lack of state school educated winners in Team GB. This goes to show that perhaps the government is not doing enough to fund and encourage the participation of sport at school. BBC News (2008) found out that in a poll of 3,700 teenagers, 72% would prefer to visit the gym, play football or attend a youth club than hang around at home. However, 4 out of 5 of which claimed that there were not enough for them to do and participate in their local community.

According to statistics, perhaps the media are right in saying that young people are lazy. However, I believe it is much deeper than this and maybe perhaps it is lazy parenting and lack of opportunities to become active that has led to this labelling of young people today. Perhaps more needs to be done to solve this problem of lazy children and adolescents today rather than the continuous barrage of complaints about them.

Joe Wilson
2nd year Human Geography student, University of Hull


BBC News (2008). Poll dispels 'lazy teenager' myth. [online] Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7698201.stm [Accessed: 11 Jul 2013].

Broers, S (2010). Why are teens so lazy today?. [online] Available at: http://www.examiner.com/article/why-are-teens-so-lazy-today [Accessed: 11 Jul 2013].

Brooks, F and Magnusson, J et al. (2011). HBSC England National Report. Findings from the 2010 HBSC study for England. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire.

CBC News (2011). Canadian youth woefully inactive. [online] Available at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2011/01/19/fitness-canadians-health.html [Accessed: 11 Jul 2013].

Daily Mail (2004). Parents 'do not care' about lazy children. [online] Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-326145/Parents-care-lazy-children.html[Accessed: 11 Jul 2013].

Fox, E (2012). Prince Harry hits out at 'lack of opportunities' in sport for young people | UK | News | Daily Express. [online] Available at: http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/337043/Prince-Harry-hits-out-at-lack-of-opportunities-in-sport-for-young-people [Accessed: 11 Jul 2013].

Lowry, R  et al. (2005). Young People: Physical Health, Exercise and Recreation. [e-book].

Singhateh, M (2013). Young People Are Not Lazy. [online] Available at: http://www.foroyaa.gm/the-future-generation/13526-young-people-are-not-lazy [Accessed: 11 Jul 2013].

The Washingtion Times (2008). Youth grow lazy as they get older. [online] Available at: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/jul/16/youth-grow-lazy-as-they-get-older/?page=all [Accessed: 11 Jul 2013].

Monday, 1 July 2013

HBSC England Accepts Award!

Above: The HBSC England team (minus Antony). 

On Friday the 21st of June, the HBSC England team attended the University of Hertfordshire Vice Chancellor's award ceremony to pick up their 'Highly Commended' award in the category Excellence in Research.

The award for Excellence in Research is "awarded to a member of staff or team who have undertaken innovative or creative research which supports engagement with business, the professions and partner organisations through one of more of the following: undertaking and exploiting new research, creating new knowledge that is disseminated, transferred, applied and impactful, knowledge exchange and technology transfer, achieving international standing in key research areas, shaping policy agendas".

Above: The HBSC England team (minus Ellen & Antony) with the award! 

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Adolescent health concerns: Not all sex, drugs and reckless risk taking.

Often when young people’s health feature in the media, the focus is on ‘problem-behaviour’ issues like alcohol consumption, smoking, teenage pregnancy, or poor diet and lack of physical exercise. Adolescents on the whole are perceived as being physically healthy and mostly at risk from behaviours that they themselves control, and which may be perceived as a normative part of being a young person. Teenagers are stereotypically portrayed as risk takers, and the potentially negative outcomes of their behaviour has led to a strong focus on reducing risk taking as a priority for young people’s health initiatives. In 2010 the UK government published the White Paper ‘Healthy lives, healthy people’1, which recognises the distinct needs of different age groups and the necessity for approaches that are tailored to best meet individual circumstances. It reinforces the importance of people being ‘in charge’ of their own health, and of access to appropriate information and genuine dialogue with health care professionals. However, the concerns listed specifically in relation to adolescents are very much focused on the stereotypical issues listed above, with little or no mention of other types of health concerns.

There is no denying that involvement in risk behaviours can at times result in significant and detrimental consequences for young people, both in terms of health and more generally for academic achievement and maintenance of positive relationships. However, just focusing on the problem behaviours of adolescence may lead to other concerns being marginalised or ignored altogether. The latest National Report for HBSC England2 shows that in 2009/ 10, 7% of boys and 10% of girls aged 11-15 years reported smoking at least sometimes; a sharp decrease since 2002 when 15% of boys and 21% of girls said they smoked at least sometimes. When it comes to drinking alcohol, at age 11, 4% of boys and 2% of girls say they drink alcohol every week; the figures for 15 year olds are 32% of boys and 23% of girls who report weekly alcohol consumption. Again, these figures have reduced dramatically since 2002 – for some age groups they have more than halved. We know from other statistics that teenage conceptions are at their lowest rate since 19693. Meanwhile, the latest HBSC England report also show that many young people suffer from a range of physical health concerns. Headaches are the most prevalent, with 33% of all young people aged 11-15 years saying that they experience headaches every week. Among 15 year old girls, weekly headaches are reported by almost half (48%). Around a fifth (22%) of 11-15 year olds say they suffer from weekly stomach aches, and 14% from weekly back aches. More than half of young people aged 11-15 years (51% of boys and 62% of girls) suffer at least one physical symptom weekly (HBSC England unpublished data). Furthermore, unlike many of the risk behaviours, reported incidences of physical symptoms like headaches are increasing among young people.

Our findings that headaches are the most commonly reported physical symptom by young people is backed up by other research.4 Frequent somatic symptoms have been identified by children themselves to be related to the school environment (pressure of studying, noisy classrooms)5, and insecurity or conflict within the family.6 Other research has confirmed the association between somatic complaints and school-related stress7 and several studies have found the presence of functional symptoms to correlate negatively with young people’s quality of life.8-10 Complaints like headaches and stomach-aches may have physical causes, which need to be investigated, or may be symptoms of other problems and stress. It is important not to dismiss young people presenting with such complaints as malingering, but to understand that regardless of the origins these symptoms can be indicative of serious problems and, consequently, lead to negative outcomes. Children and young people presenting in health care settings are also far more likely to discuss physical health symptoms than they are to discuss risk behaviours, meaning that such concerns may be more amenable to intervention.

Seeing adolescent health mainly from the perspective of problematic risk taking could result in overlooking the physical health complaints experienced by this age group; this tendency is already evident in both national and international policy. Meanwhile, we suggest that physical health complaints are far more frequently occurring among adolescents than are risk behaviours, that they are on the increase and can have a significantly negative impact on young people’s lives, and therefore deserve greater attention and respect than is currently the case.

Josefine Magnusson

  1. Department of Health (2010) Healthy lives, healthy people. Department of Health
  2. Brooks, F., Magnusson, J., Klemera, E., Spencer, N., and Morgan, A. (2011) HBSC England National Report:Findings from the 2010 HBSC study for England. University of Hertfordshire
  3. Office for National Statistics (2013) Conceptions in England and Wales, 2011. Statistical Bulletin, Office for National Statistics
  4. Shannon, R.A., Bergren, M.D., and Matthews, A. (2010) Frequent Visitors: Somatization in School-Age Children and Implications forSchool Nurses. The Journal of School Nursing, 26:169-182
  5. Hjern, A., Alfven, G., and Östberg, V. (2008) School stressors, psychological complaints and psychosomatic pain. Acta Paediatrica, 97 (1): 112-117
  6. Odegaard, G., Lindbladh, E., and Hovelius, B. (2003) Children who suffer from headaches – A narrativeof insecurity in school and family. British Journal of General Practice, 53 (488): 210-213
  7. Henriksen, R.E., and Murberg, T.A. (2009) Shyness as a risk factor for somatic complaints amongNorwegian adolescents. School Psychology International, 30 (2): 148-162
  8. Langeveld, J.H., Koot, H.M., and Passchier, J. (1997) Headache Intensity and Quality of Life inAdolescents. How are Changes in Headache Intensity in Adolescents Related toChanges in Experienced Quality of Life? Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 37 (1): 37-42
  9. Youssef, N.N., Murphy, T.G., Langseder, A.L. and Rosh, J.R. (2006) Quality of life forchildren with functional abdominal pain: A comparison study of patients’ andparents’ perceptions. Pediatrics, 117 (1): 54-59
  10. Hunfeld, A.M., Perquin, C.W., Duivenvoorden, H.J.,  Hazebroek-Kampschreur, A.J.M., Passchier, J., van Suijlekom-Smit, L.W.A., and van der Wouden, J.C. (2001) Chronic pain andits impact on quality of life in adolescents and their families. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 26 (3): 145-153 

Monday, 29 April 2013

Youth Participation

Youth participation means recognising that young people have important contributions to make in decisions that impact their lives. When done effectively, it ensures that young people have the skills, knowledge and confidence to get involved with decision making; and enabling a culture within which young people's opinions and contributions are recognised, valued and acted upon by the wider society.

An interesting conference on Youth Participation took place at the London School of Economics on the 18th of April. The conference was organised by the National Council for VoluntaryYouth Services (NCVYS), who had done a great job presenting nearly all National Charity organisations who work with youth as partners. Established in 1936, the NCVYS is a diverse and growing network of over 280 national organisations and regional and local networks that work with and for young people. Their mission is to work with the members from voluntary and community organisations to build thriving communities and sustainable networks that help all young people achieve their potential.

The conference was focused on exploring meaningful and practical ways to engage young people in the decision-making processes of an organisation’s work. The seminars were held by the winners of young Partners Award 2012: The Rural Youth Voice ProjectLeapConfronting Conflict training provider and the Fun Youth Involvement board. Experts (E.Mtungwazi, Head of recruitment at City Year) John Laughton, founder of Dare2Lead, and   Ross Hendry, director of policy from the office of the Children’s Commissioner) gave interesting talks about young people’s recruitment and retention, investing in leaders and in young people as partners. The most valuable part of the conference however was networking with the young participants themselves. It was so interesting to meet so many confident youngsters who knew what they wanted to do with their lives; they look so optimistically towards the future believing that they can change the world.

As we have already posted on our website and blog, we involve young people as co-researchers in HBSC study, which give the study another dimension: young people watching and observing other young people of nearly the same age!  We have held workshops with young people, established connections with local schools, through which we have formed Research Advisory Groups. These young researchers help our research by sharing their own experiences. For instance, taking on board young researchers’ feedback can ensure questions are easy to understand and reflect topics highly relevant to them. Young people can help us identify new research areas, evaluate the questions used in the HBSC questionnaire and helping to explain current HBSC findings. Organisations like the NCVYS help bring together people doing this kind of work in different arenas, ensuring we can learn from each other and spread the culture of youth participation even further.

                                                                                                        Ellen Klemera

Free seminar: Life-threatening illnesses in childbirth

The School of Health and Social Work and the Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care (CRIPACC) are delighted to present:

 ‘Life-threatening illnesses in childbirth: 
The long term burden for mothers and families’

Dr Lisa Hinton 
Senior Researcher, Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, 
University of Oxford

Dr Hinton is a senior qualitative researcher in the Health Experiences Research Group (HERG). Her research focuses on women's health, in particular experiences of infertility, pregnancy and childbirth, and the role of the Internet in mediating health experiences. Dr Hinton’s PhD explored the information and support needs of women and men going through infertility. She has published on the award-winning on-line website  Healthtalk. During her doctoral studies she also spent time on secondment as a Committee Specialist to the Health Select Committee at the House of Commons.

The seminar will be held on Wednesday 8th May 1.00pm to 2.00pm in Room F414 (Health Research Building), University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield AL10 9AB.  Please confirm whether you will be attending by e-mailing Julie Mace j.mace@herts.ac.uk

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Summary: ReACH Seminar on Bullying

Our Twitter followers will be happy to know the seminar on bullying, which we have been tweeting about constantly, has finally taken place! This blog post will summarise the event for those of you who were unable to attend. The seminar was organised by the Research in Adolescent and Child Health (ReACH) interest group at the University of Hertfordshire, and proved to be an interesting and discursive event.  Professor Fiona Brooks from the University of Hertfordshire opened the seminar with the following thought-provoking questions which set the mood for the rest of the afternoon;

“Where does teasing end and bullying begin?”
“What form does bullying take?”
“What is the real prevalence of bullying?”
“What actions are effective to address bullying?”

Professor John Freeman from Queen’s University, Canada was the first of our speakers. John is a member of the Canadian Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) team; and his presentation used HBSC data to compare bullying in England and Canada. In both the English and Canadian HBSC survey, young people are asked how often they had been bullied and bullied others in the last two months. John begun by comparing prevalence rates: more young people in Canada reported being bullied and bullying others than in England, but both countries saw a decrease in bullying behaviours with age. John then highlighted how different methods of measuring prevalence often result in varying levels being reported. HBSC Canada uses an additional measure of bullying to England; in which questions ask about specific behaviours i.e. “Have you been called mean names?” This measure of bullying, which does not include the word bullying, reports higher rates of prevalence than the single question. To conclude John discussed the negative health outcomes of bullying; in both England and Canada young people who experienced bullying had a significantly lower life satisfaction than those who had not been bullied.

Our second speaker was Dr Sarah Woods from the University of Sunderland. Sarah presented an evaluation of the Red Balloon Learner Centres, based on a PhD project by Dr Nicky Knights. The Red Balloon Learner Centres provide intensive full-time education for children and adolescents who have experienced severe bullying; the centres provide a personal academic, pastoral and therapeutic programme. The Red Balloon Learner Centres were evaluated based on improvements in psychosocial wellbeing and academic functioning, and compared to the interventions offered by local authority. Both the Red Balloon Learner Centres and the local authority interventions proved to have significant beneficial results on both wellbeing and academic functioning, with Sarah’s work establishing optimum results between 3 and 6 months. While Sarah found no differences between the positive effect of the Red Balloon Learner Centre’s and the interventions provided by local authority; she highlighted how the young people attending the Red Balloon Learner Centres had experienced more severe and enduring bullying. Consensus following Sarah’s presentation was that while interventions like Red Balloon Learner Centre’s are costly, the cost of doing nothing i.e. burden on NHS, and criminal justice system, is much greater in the long run.

Jessica von Kaenel-Flatt and Jennifer O’Brien from The BB Group were our final presenters of the afternoon. Jessica and Jennifer reported findings from the Virtual Violence II study by BeatBullying; a comprehensive survey of over 4000 young people in the UK designed to measure prevalence, methods, motivations and consequences of cyber bullying as well as teachers’ interpretations of the behaviour and interventions available. The survey reports that 28% of 11 – 16 year olds have been deliberately targeted, threatened or humiliated by an individual or group through the use of mobile phones of the internet; and 21% of young people aged 8 – 11 years reported experiencing cyber bullying. Certain groups of young people were identified as being more at risk of cyber bullying; girls are more likely to be victims of cyber bullying than boys and disabled young people were nearly twice as likely to be bullied as their non-disabled peers.  Jessica and Jennifer discussed preventative strategies for cyber bullying which lead to much discussion surrounding parents’ responsibilities. Should parents ensure they themselves are up-to-date with technology in order to protect their children and what about the use of parental restrictions?

The seminar closed with an insightful video of our young researchers discussing bullying; describing how the stigma attached to bullying is detrimental to the behaviour being reported. We would like to say a huge thank you to all of our presenters. The seminar proved to be a great success, and we hope that all attendees found it both interesting and useful. For more details, we provided an up-to-date account of the seminar on twitter - @HBSCEngland.

Kayleigh Chester

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

ChildLine report a 68% increase in calls concerning self-harm

HBSC England is committed to studying issues which are relevant to young people’s lives. The study is tailored to cover important, up-to-date topics; for instance in the next HBSC England questionnaire we intend to include questions on cyberbullying and sleep in accordance with societal changes and gaps in current research. To coincide with the Association for Young People’s Health (AYPH) recent report on self-harm1, this blog post explains why HBSC England will be adding self-harm measures to the next survey round.

Self-harm is a complex behaviour to define; essentially it describes the intentional harming of one’s own body resulting in tissue damage2. It can involve many behaviours including cutting, burning, scratching and swallowing toxic substances. There is much debate surrounding the similarities between self-harm and suicide; researchers are divided as to whether self-harm has suicidal intent or not. Research demonstrating differences in the methods and frequency of those self-harming with the intent to kill themselves and those without3 offers support for defining self-harm as separate from suicidal ideation. The motivations for suicidal self-harm have also been shown to differ to those without suicidal intent; individuals with suicidal intent report self-harming in order to make others better off whereas non-suicidal individuals report self-harming as a way of expressing anger and to punish themselves4. However, others believe distinguishing between the two behaviours is both problematic and irrelevant. It is difficult to establish suicidal intent, and there is a consistent link between self-harm and suicide5,6; consequently researchers suggest self-harm should encompass all self-harming behaviours irrespective of intent. Defining self-harm is also made increasingly more difficult because a variety of terms are used to coin the behaviour, including self-injury, self-poisoning, para-suicide and self-mutilation.

Research has consistently shown that self-harm is a behaviour predominantly carried out by adolescents7,8; it is also more common among females than males8. The exact prevalence of self-harm is unknown; however it is estimated around 10% of adolescents report having self-harmed8. Self-harm is typically carried out in private and kept hidden, so it is very difficult to measure prevalence. Often prevalence rates have been based on hospital admissions for self-harm, but this is not an effective measure as many self-harmers do not require or seek hospital treatment. Consequently, the exact prevalence of self-harm is unknown; and could feasibly be much higher than current estimations.

The HBSC England team will include questions on self-harm in their next survey; since we want to both strengthen the evidence base around the prevalence of self-harm, and also analyse the factors in a young person’s life that may correlate with this behaviour. The aim is to not simply report the prevalence of self-harm among young people but wishes to contribute to the current understanding of the behaviour. Since the HBSC study examines young people’s lives in their broad social context and includes questions about a wide variety of aspects of young people’s lives including family, school, friends and the community; the breadth of the study makes it possible to understand self-harm in more detail. We can establish relationships between self-harm and other important factors in young people’s lives; this will help to identify factors which put them at risk of self-harming and factors which protect young people from self-harming. Recently ChildLine reported a 68% increase in children seeking help for self-harm from 2011 – 20129. This increase may suggest that self-harm is on the increase, which makes it even more important that self-harm continues to receive research attention so we can begin to fully understand the behaviour. The HBSC England team hopes the inclusion of self-harm measures in the HBSC study will allow them to make a contribution to the knowledge and understanding of self-harm among adolescents.

Kayleigh Chester


1 Hagell, A. (2013). Adolescent self-harm: AYPH Research Summary No. 13. Association for Young People's Health (AYPH) & ChiMat.
2  Fliege, H., Lee, J. R., Grimm, A., & Klapp, B. F. (2009). Risk factors and correlates of deliberate self-harm behavior: A systematic review. Journal of psychosomatic research, 66(6), 477-493.
3 Nagy, E., & Páli, E. (2009). Clinical diagnoses, characteristics of risk behaviour, differences between suicidal and non-suicidal subgroups of Hungarian adolescent outpatients practising self-injury. European child & adolescent psychiatry, 18(5), 309-320.
4 Brown, M. Z., Comtois K. A., Linehan, M. M. (2002). Reasons for suicide attempts and nonsuicidal self-injury in women with borderline personality disorder. J Abnormal Psychology, 111, 198–202.
5 Cooper, J., Kapur, N., Webb, R., Lawlor, M., Guthrie, E., Mackway-Jones, K. & Appleby, L. (2005). Suicide after deliberate self-harm: a 4-year cohort study. Am J Psychiatry, 162, 297– 303.
6 Nock, M. K., Joiner, T. E., Gordon, K. H., Lloyd-Richardson, E., & Prinstein, M. J. (2006). Non-suicidal self-injury among adolescents: Diagnostic correlates and relation to suicide attempts. Psychiatry research, 144(1), 65-72.
7 Hawton, K., Saunders. K. and O’Connor, R. (2012). Self-harm and suicide in adolescents. The Lancet, 379, 2373-82.
8 Hawton, K., Rodham, K., Evans, E., Weatherall, R. (2002) Deliberate self-harm in adolescents: self-report survey in schools in England. BMJ, 325, 1207–11.
9 Saying the unsayable: What’s affecting children in 2012. Report by ChildLine.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Child wellbeing: Our response to UNICEF’s Report Card 11

The UNICEF Report Card 11, which is based partly on HBSC international data, was released on the 10th of April and positioned the UK halfway through a ranking of 29 rich countries for child well-being. The British press responded to the news in different ways (somewhat upbeat at BBC News; gloomier at the Guardian), but attention was mostly on the fact that the UK lag behind many other countries.

This is true – but while efforts need to be made to ensure that we improve the lives of young people in the UK further, it is also important not to lose sight of the positive changes that have already taken place.
First of all, although to be ranked 16th of 29 countries may well be disappointing, the UK has strengthened its position by 4 points since the early 2000s when it was placed second to last of 21 countries. Out of the countries investigated, only one (Portugal) improved by more (5 points) and one (Ireland) by the same number. This is not a cause for complacency, but it shows that significant improvements have been made during this time period.

There is also variability between the different markers used to obtain the overall ranking, and for housing & environment the UK ranks a more respectable 10th. Further, on the child Deprivation Index (used as part of the Material Well-being indicator) it’s in the top third. The risk behaviours of smoking, drinking, cannabis use, and physical fighting all show positive downward trends.

Teenage fertility (live births) is highlighted in the report as an area where the UK actually shows an increase over the last decade. Again, it is important to note the significant achievements made in this area. Report Card 11 groups all of the UK countries together, but we know from recent statistics that in England and Wales conceptions (which encompasses all pregnancies, including those that end in miscarriage or abortion) among women aged under 18 are the lowest since 1969. Recent moves to disband the Teenage Pregnancy Unit, and a continued reluctance to make sex education a compulsory part of the curriculum in schools in England, may well put such positive changes in jeopardy however.

It is not all good news, of course. UNICEF places the UK 24th on the education indicator, which includes both participation and achievement (based on PISA scores for reading, maths and science). We also know from HBSC international data that 15 year olds in England, Wales and Scotland rank in the top 10 (of 39 countries) for feeling pressured by school work, and discussions with our young co-researchers indicate that pressure over academic attainment is a source of much stress to young people. On the other hand, the HBSC study also shows that young people in England are more likely than their peers in many other countries to say that they like school.

We are optimistic that many aspects of young people’s lives are changing for the better, and we hope that a genuine concern for their well-being will result in future policy and practice that enhances it even further.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

UNICEF Report Card 11: Child wellbeing in rich countries

UNICEF’s Research Office has released Report Card 11, charting the well-being of children in 29 rich countries. The report is based partly on HBSC international data, and focus on comparisons of indicators both between countries and over time.

The report ranks countries based on five indicators: material well-being (monetary and material deprivation), health and safety (health at birth, preventive health services, and childhood mortality), education (participation and achievement), behaviour and risks (health behaviours, risk behaviours, and exposure to violence), and housing and environment (Housing and environmental safety). It notes that overall, most of these areas show improvement over the last decade, and that the Netherlands and the three Nordic countries of Finland, Iceland and Norway fare best in terms of child well-being.

What is the situation for young people in the UK?

Report Card 11 does not distinguish between the separate countries of the UK but have grouped England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland together. In the overall ranking, the UK is placed 16 out of 29 countries – an improvement of 4 points since the early 2000s when the UK ranked second to last of 21 countries.

There is variation between the different domains in where individual countries are placed – the UK is ranked 10th for Housing & Environment, 14th for Material Well-being, 15th for Behaviours & Risk, 16th for Health & Safety, and 24th for Education. Positive changes from the early to the late 2000s are evident for young people in the UK across most of the indicators, with particularly big changes noted for risk behaviours like smoking, drinking, using cannabis and being involved in physical fighting.

The report also looked at how children and young people themselves rate the quality of their life, and for self-reported life satisfaction, the UK ranks 14th, suggesting that young people here rate the quality of their lives slightly better than objective indicators would suggest.

More information (including the full report) is available from UNICEF here.

The HBSC International report for 2009/ 10 is available from the WHO here

Thursday, 28 March 2013

What makes young people happy?

What is the secret of happiness? What makes young people happy?
According to the traditional measures of life satisfaction and happiness, self-esteem (a positive or negative evaluation of one’s self, how they feel about themselves) appears to be one of the strongest correlating factors with happiness 1. Data from 3,407 students from the University of Northern Columbia showed that the correlation of self-esteem with overall life satisfaction/happiness was higher (from 0.64 to 0.75) than the correlation with other important factors such as family relationship etc.
In the 2010 HBSC study 2 it was found that over 83% of young people in England (from 11 to 15 year olds) felt positive about their lives, although this is a slight decrease since 2006 (85%).
Measures of life satisfaction give us an idea of young people’s happiness as constructed by adults 3 but do not give us knowledge about how young people define happiness themselves.
What are young people’s own experiences of happiness; what do they mean by happiness and being happy?
Research that has asked young people in detail about their definitions of what makes them feel happy 3 found that young people rate autonomy, feeling safe and secure, sense of self and self-image, material resources, home and environment as the most important aspects of their lives that shape happiness. 
Children’s idea of happiness also change as they get older.  Chaplin 3 recruited young people divided into three age groups; 8-9 year olds, 12-13 year olds, and 16-18 year olds, and then asked them to construct their own answer to the open-ended question: “What makes you happy?” Five categories were identified: 1. ‘People and pets’, 2. ‘Achievements’, 3. ‘material things’, 4. ‘hobbies’, and 5. ‘sports’.
The different age groups differed in the emphasis they placed on the individual categories. In particular, the youngest age group listed more hobbies as contributing to their happiness than the other age groups, the middle group listed more material things than did the other age groups, and the oldest group put most emphasis on achievements. While ‘people and pets’ was one of the most important factors across all age groups, the oldest cohort listed fewer instances in this category than the middle  group, perhaps indicating the increasing independence and parting from important adults, such as parents and teachers, at this age.
Among material resources as an attribute of happiness, young people usually list having pocket money, ‘brand’ name clothes and trainers, technology items (e.g. iPods and satellite TV) and family holidays 3.
As we can see, neither the traditional life satisfaction scales nor the qualitative studies investigating young people’s happiness list the materialistic resources at the top of young peoples own ranking - or as the only ones which make young people happy.  Instead it seems likely then that the happiness of young people depends more on significant people around them, the young people themselves and maybe their achievements and how fully they live their life?
                                                                                        Ellen Klemera
1. Michalos, A.C. &Orlando, J. A. (2006). A note on student quality of life.  Social Indicators Research, 79(1), 51–59.
2. Brooks, F., Magnusson, J., Klemera, E., Spenser, N. & Morgan, A. (2011) HBSC England National Report. Health Behaviour in School-aged Children. World Health Organization Collaborative Cross National Study. Hatfield, CRIPACC .
3. Magnusson, J., Klemera, E., Brooks, F. (2013) Life satisfaction in children and young people. The Child and Family Clinical Psychology Review, The British Psychological Society,No1, Spring 2013, 118-124.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

“Who drinks just half a bottle?”: Soft drinks consumption among English young people

This year so far has seen increased media focus on the issue of soft drinks consumption in the UK, particularly among young people. First Sustain produced a report1 calling for a 20p per litre sugary drinks duty, which they claim would raise £1 billion a year to contribute towards health promoting initiatives for children. The background for the report was the increasing health problems that high intake of sugary drinks are seen as contributing towards, and a concern about increasing NHS costs and the future health of children. Then the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges issued a report2 into the UK obesity crisis which also recommended a 20% increase in tax on sugar sweetened soft-drinks. The reports and their recommendations generated much interest in the British press, and the Guardian3 reported on the response of the British Soft Drinks Association whose director general, Gavin Partington, claimed that "Over the last 10 years, the consumption of soft drinks containing added sugar has fallen by 9% while the incidence of obesity has increased by 15%” (The Guardian, 29 January 2013). However, the British Soft Drinks Association’s annual report into soft drinks consumption in Britain paints a slightly different picture. Reports from 2007 – 20124,5 show that while the consumption of soft drinks that are classed as ‘regular’ (i.e., sugar-added) have reduced as a proportion of the total, overall consumption has increased. Consumption of carbonated drinks and still & juice drinks (not pure fruit juice) went up in the UK from 2006-2011, while consumption of dilutables (e.g. squashes) decreased somewhat. The real change in that time though is in the consumption of energy drinks, which went up from 6.7 l/person in 2006 to 10.6 l/person in 2011 – an increase of 58%.4,5

These figures relate to the population overall and include the whole of the UK. For young people in England, the HBSC data show a dramatic increase in consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks from 2006 to 2010; in some age groups the proportion who report drinking such drinks every day has more than doubled over that time period. 6,7 In 2006, around 20% of girls and between 20-28% of boys in England said they drank sugary soft drinks every day – in 2010 this had increased to between 32-39% of girls and around 40% of boys. Further, whereas England ranked 29th (26th for 11 year olds) for drinking such drinks every day in 2006, in 2010 they were placed first (2nd among 15 year olds) among 39 countries. Meanwhile, both Scotland and Wales reported modest decreases in daily soft drinks consumption for young people between 2006 and 2010.

During a recent event with the young people’s advisory group for HBSC England, we asked a group of young people aged between 13 and 18 why they thought soft drinks consumption was so high among English adolescents. They cited the very prominent Red Bull adverts of a few years ago as one explanation for the dramatic increase in energy drinks in particular, and some claimed that an energy drink might even serve as a meal replacement because it fills you up and, quite clearly, “contains energy”.

A recent study in the US8 used focus groups to investigate the factors that are important for young people when choosing beverages. Not surprisingly, taste was rated as most important (by 93%) while only 30% said they considered calorie content. Those students who reported drinking diet drinks primarily said they did so for taste rather than health concerns which were of little interest, and which they didn’t consider relevant to themselves because of their age. The second most important consideration when choosing beverages in that study was reported to be price, indicating that the price hikes suggested by Sustain and the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges may have an impact on soft drink intake in young people. The study also found limited awareness among the young people in their focus groups with regards to daily energy requirement, meaning that nutritional labels had little meaning to them. When we discussed soft drinks consumption with our research advisory group, some students felt that labelling for soft drinks in the UK were misleading by, for example, only providing calorie content for half a regular bottle of soft drink – as one student put it, “who drinks half a bottle?”. 

The HBSC data shows that far from falling, sugary drinks consumption has drastically increased among young people in England over the last few years. What we need to understand now is why this increase is contained to just one country in Great Britain, and why England has not seen the decreases in consumption experienced by Wales and Scotland. If current trends are to be reversed, these issues need to be explored.

Josefine Magnusson

1.       Fitzpatrick, I. (2013) A children’s future fund: How food duties could provide the money to protect children’s health and the world they grow up in. Sustain; London
2.       Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (2013) Measuring up: The medical profession’s prescription for the nation’s obesity crisis. Academy of Medical Royal Colleges
3.       The Guardian (29 January 2013) Tax sugary drinks to boost child health, says report. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jan/29/tax-sugary-drinks-child-health
4.       British Soft Drinks Association (2007) The 2007 soft drinks’ report. British Soft Drinks Association; London
5.       British Soft Drinks Association (2012) Long-term commitment for long-term success: The 2012 soft drinks’ report. British Soft Drinks Association; London
6.       Currie, C. et al. (2008) Inequalities in young people’s health. Health behaviour in school-aged children international report from the 2005/2006 survey. Child and Adolescent Health Research Unit, University of Edinburgh
7.       Currie, C. et al. (2012) Social determinants of health and well-being among young people. Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) Study: International report from the 2009/ 2010 survey. World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe
8.       Block, J.P., Gillman, M.W., Linakis, S.K.,and Goldman, R.E. (2013) If It Tastes Good, Im Drinking It: Qualitative Study of Beverage Consumption Among College Students. Journal of Adolescent Health, Early Online Access: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1054139X12007975

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Involving the People that Matter: A day with our Young Researchers

HBSC England is keen to include young people in their research as co-researchers. Young people can be involved as co-researchers in many aspects of the study – identifying new research areas, evaluating the questions used in the HBSC questionnaire and helping to explain current HBSC findings. Their active participation in the research process ensures the study and its methodology reflect being a young person in today’s society. For instance, taking on board young researchers’ feedback can ensure questions are easy to understand and reflect topics highly relevant to them. By actively involving young researchers in the HBSC study it does not only improve the study, but also helps to facilitate young peoples’ voice and influence over policy and practice.

The HBSC England team has been very active in involving young people in the research and has engaged in youth participation since we began the survey in 2009. Young researchers have worked with us to prepare for the last survey in 2009/2010 and are currently working with us for the next 2013/2014 survey. Recently we have run two workshops with groups of young people, to gain their understanding and perspective on the findings from the 2009/2010 HBSC study.
On Wednesday 20th and Friday 22nd February members of our team met with two separate groups of young researchers. One event was held at Glasgow Caledonian University London, and the other at the University of Hertfordshire. Fiona Brooks, our co-principal investigator, introduced the study to the young people and explained the reason for the workshop – we wanted them to provide their understanding and explanations of the 2009/2010 HBSC data. They were presented with ten booklets containing data and graphs from the 2009/2010 national and international HBSC report. The booklets covered different topics:
  1. Alcohol
  2. Family
  3. School
  4. Emotional health and wellbeing
  5. Physical Social and Health Education (PSHE)
  6. Neighbourhood and community
  7. Fighting and bullying
  8. Physical activity
  9. Electronic media communication (EMC)
  10. Healthy behaviours
The young researchers divided up into pairs or small groups, and chose two of the booklets. Within their individual groups they then worked their way through discussing the findings and reflecting on the possible causes behind them. In the final part of the workshop all the groups came together again, and each group presented their topic area and their understanding of the findings. This exercise allowed the young researchers to discuss all the different topic areas as a group, and resulted in some fantastic discussions. All the young people were astute and insightful, offering some fantastic opinions on the different topic areas. The events were a great success!

If you wish to find out more, we provided an up to date account on both days on our twitter account - @HBSCEngland.

Kayleigh Chester