Thursday, 19 November 2015

International Men's Day

November 19th is International Men’s Day 2015, aimed at raising awareness of men’s health and wellbeing, promoting male role models and celebrating men’s positive contributions, highlighting male discrimination and promoting gender equality. The UK theme for 2015 is “Make a Difference for Men and Boys”; identifying what action needs to be taken to address issues. How can we make a difference to the lives of men and boys across the world?

The latest data from HBSC England1 is drawn from a large representative sample across England, encompassing girls and boys aged between 11 – 15 years from varying social backgrounds, ethnicities and religions. Consequently the HBSC England data provides a comprehensive picture of the lives of young boys living in England today; allowing us to identify both aspects of physical health and emotional and social wellbeing in which boys are flourishing, and also areas of concern.

Since 2002 a decline in traditional risk behaviours such as drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, cannabis use and fighting have all been noted among adolescents. Today only a small minority (6%) of 15 year old boys report smoking on a weekly basis, falling from 28% in 2002. Likewise, the prevalence of weekly drinking among 15 year old boys has reduced sharply from 52% in 2002 to 12% in 2014. Similar reductions in substance use have been noted elsewhere; in 2014 the Health and Social Care Information Centre2 reported the lowest rates of smoking and alcohol consumption among teenage boys since their research began in 1988, while the HBSC Scotland team3 recorded the fewest instances of drunkenness among 15 year old boys since 1990. Fighting is typically viewed as a male behaviour, but although more boys than girls still report being involved in fighting, the gender gap is narrowing due to a steady decline in the number of young boys who said they have been involved in a physical fight (Figure 1). This is a trend which Pickett and colleagues4 identified to be occurring on an international level.

Figure 1: Proportion of boys aged 11-15 years who reported being in two or more physical fights during the previous year (adapted from Brooks et al. 2015)

While the number of young boys engaging in traditional risk behaviours appears to be improving, the same cannot be said about healthy behaviours. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends young people participate in at least 1 hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day. The latest HBSC England data identified less than a quarter (22%) of all boys surveyed met the recommended levels of physical activity. Moreover, the proportion of boys who are physically active for an hour every day has decreased by 6 percentage points from 2010, and is now at the lowest it has been since 2002. Similarly, fewer than half of boys reported eating fruit and vegetables every day, with no substantial changes since 2006. Sleep is a new topic for HBSC England, but the latest data suggest that this is an area of concern - only 48% of 15 year old boys reported achieving 8.5 hours sleep and nearly a third said they are unable to concentrate at school due to a lack of sleep. 

Adolescent boys are often reported to fare better in terms of health and well-being than their female peers, but there are particular areas where men are known to be at greater risk. An integral part of International Men’s Day is raising awareness of male suicide: Men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women, and the last five years has seen a 40% increase in suicides among men aged 45-49 years5. Despite these figures, men are less likely to be diagnosed with depression than women6. The HBSC England data contributes to challenging the gender stereotype surrounding emotional wellbeing, and adds to the call for action regarding young boys’ mental health. A substantial proportion of young boys reported poor emotional wellbeing (Table 1), with a quarter of 15 year old boys feeling low once a week and nearly a third feeling nervous on a weekly basis. Further, one of the most commonly reported health complaints among 15 year old boys, feeling irritable, is recognised as one of the markers of depression in men6. Boys’ self-reported life satisfaction is a concern, with 21% of boys reporting they are “struggling” or “suffering” and a dramatic decrease in life satisfaction among 15 year old boys in the last 4 years. In line with decreases in emotional wellbeing, 11% of 15 year old boys reported self-harming in 2014 compared with 3.2% in a comparable survey-based study conducted in 20027.

Table 1: Proportion of boys who reported experiencing health complaints and emotions during the past week (adapted from Brooks et al. 2015)

11 year olds
13 year olds
15 year olds
All ages
Feeling low
Feeling nervous
Feeling irritable
Sleeping difficulties
Felt full of energy
Felt able to pay attention

There is much focus on the emotional well-being of girls and young women, but while highlighting such issues is necessary it is equally important that we do not forget about boys and young men in the process. The idea that males are ‘doing fine’ just because they report a lower prevalence of risk factors than young women could marginalise boys’ emotional well-being needs. The HBSC England data provides an insight into the lives of adolescent boys in England today, and the temporal nature of the study allows us to make comparisons spanning over a decade. The data indicates positive behavioural changes including a decline in substance use and fighting which are worthy of celebration. However, in keeping with the theme of International Men’s Day: How can we make a difference to the lives of boys? The HBSC England data suggests we move away from traditional, masculine risk behaviours and begin to address healthy behaviours and emotional wellbeing. The majority of boys are not engaging with healthy behaviours such as physical activity, and comparisons across time suggest uptake of these behaviours are at best static, and at worst in decline. Moreover, we need greater acknowledgement that emotional well-being is an issue for the teenage boys of England just as it is for girls.

Why not check out blog posts written by our young male co-researchers? Vato and Roman recently wrote a blog titled “What we think” which explores the internal struggles adolescents face, and Harrison has written “Adolescent stress from a young person’s view”.

  1.  Brooks, F., Magnusson, J., Klemera, E., Chester, K., Spender, N. & Smeeton, N. (2015). HBSCEngland National Report: Findings from the 2014 HBSC Study for England. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire.
  2. Health and Social Care Information Centre (2015). Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England 2014. Leeds: HSCIC
  3. Currie C, Van der Sluijs, W., Whitehead, R., Currie, D., Rhodes, G., Neville, F., Inchley, J. (2015) HBSC 2014 Survey inScotland National Report. Child and Adolescent Health Research Unit (CAHRU), University of St Andrews
  4. Pickett, W., Molcho, M., Elgar, F. J., Brooks, F., de Looze, M., Rathmann, K., … Currie, C. (2013). Trends and socioeconomiccorrelates of adolescent physical fighting in 30 countries. Pediatrics, 131(1), e18–26
  5. Equality and Human Rights Commission. (2015). IsBritain Fairer? The state of equality and human rights 2015.
  6. Wilkins, D. (2010) Untold problems: A review of the essential issues in the mental healthof men and boys. Men’s Health Forum.
  7. Hawton, K., Rodham, K., Evans, E., & Weatherall, R. (2002). Deliberate self harm in adolescents: self report surveyin schools in England. BMJ, 325(7374), 1207-1211

Monday, 16 November 2015

Make a Noise!

The 16th – 20th November is Anti-Bullying Week in England, organised by the Anti-Bullying Alliance. The 2015 theme is “Make a Noise About Bullying”, focused on encouraging conversations about bullying – among young people, schools and families. Bullying can have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of young people. International research has demonstrated experiencing bullying is linked to both physical health symptoms (e.g. headaches) and psychological health symptoms (e.g. loneliness)1. Moreover, research by Wolke and colleagues2 identified the impact of childhood bullying can last long into adult life. The detrimental and often long lasting effects of bullying make it imperative young people speak up about bullying they, or others, are experiencing so that they receive the necessary support.

Bullying can be defined as intentional harmful behaviours, which are carried out repeatedly against a weaker individual. Bullying can be carried out using many different behaviours, but they can be broadly categorised in to physical, verbal, relational and cyber bullying.

The HBSC study has long recognised the importance of researching bullying among young people, and within the international network questions addressing bullying have been a mandatory feature of the HBSC survey since 1997. HBSC England samples a large, representative proportion of young people aged 11, 13 and 15 years in England. Consequently, the latest HBSC England data provides an up to date view of bullying behaviours in England today. 

Overall, 32% of young people surveyed said they had experienced bullying at school at least once in the past two months. Girls were slightly more likely than boys to say they had been bullied– 34% of girls compared with 31% of boys. Comparatively, fewer young people said they had bullied another student; 18% of the young people surveyed said they had bullied someone in the past 2 months.

The 2014 survey was the first time HBSC England included questions on the topic of cyberbullying (read our previous blog post about cyberbullying by clicking here). Fewer young people reported being cyberbullied than the more “traditional” forms of bullying; in total 18% of the young people surveyed said they had experienced cyberbullying in the past two months. Girls were much more likely to say they had been cyberbullied, with 24% of girls compared with 12% of  boys reporting cyberbullying. Interestingly cyber bullying appeared to increase with age (Figure 2), compared with traditional bullying which was less common among older adolescents (Figure 1).

For the full HBSC England report which addresses bullying (along with other adolescent health behaviours!) click here.

Join in with Anti-Bullying Week on twitter by using the #antibullyingweek and #MakeaNoise to raise awareness around bullying. We will be tweeting the latest HBSC England data on bullying from our account @HBSCEngland, so make sure you follow us for updates!

  1. Due, P., Holstein, B. E., Lynch, J., et al. (2005). Bullying and symptoms among school-aged children: international comparative cross sectional study in 28 countriesEur J Public Health15, 128–132.
  2. Wolke, D., Copeland, W. E., Angold, A. & Costello, E. J. (2013). Impact of bullying inchildhood on adult health, wealth, crime, and social outcomes. Psychological science, 24(10), 1958-1970.

Monday, 26 October 2015

SEMINAR - "Within arm's reach: School neighbourhoods and the availability of food and drink"

FoodNet and ReACH from the University of Hertfordshire are hosting a free seminar exploring what young people are eating and drinking in and around school. Check out the flier below for more information...

Consumption in teens: an infographic

The HBSC England team are keen to work with young people when disseminating our research. Recently the team were joined by Harrison, a 15 year old student undertaking work experience. Harrison was tasked with presenting the latest HBSC England data (full report here) in a more interesting and accessible format. He created the wonderful infographic below...

Harrison also created an infographic about young people's health. Check it out here.

Health in young people: an infographic

The HBSC England team are keen to work with young people to disseminate our research. The infographic below was created by Harrison, aged 15 years. It presents the latest HBSC England data (see full national report here) in an attractive and easily accessible format. We think it looks fantastic! What do you think?

Harrison also created an infographic for data on consumption in teenagers. Check it out here.

Adolescent stress from a young person's view

The following blog post was written by Harrison, 15 years old, during his work experience with the HBSC England team. After studying the latest HBSC England national report, Harrison has reflected on the findings and given an insight into the lives of young people. It is a fascinating read...

During my work experience, I took some time to read through the recent HBSC England report. There were a few figures and points that I found interesting, and even some that I felt could benefit from a young person’s input or explanation. I thought I’d try to sum up some of the reasons that I see for a distressing increase in self-injury behaviour (1/5 of 15 year olds have self-harmed at some point in their life) and mainly reasons for stress in teens.

In some cases, problems stem from home life. From personal experience, you can really tell when something’s wrong at home just from how someone acts around you, and sometimes the person feels like they can’t tell anyone in fear of making it worse for themselves or passing on a burden. In fact, it is very important not to internalise stress or depressive thoughts; this is often a cause for self-injury behaviour. With a decrease in young people living at home with both parents, this could be seen as one reason for the increase in self-harm among adolescents. 

However, it isn’t only the stress from parental events that can affect someone’s self-injuring tendencies. A hugely influential factor, across all social groups and walks of life, is communication and support. The combination of many middle-aged parents being stereotypically hard to approach about personal subjects and stereotypical reserved, vague teens often leads to breakdowns in communication at the most crucial times in a young person’s life. Without any encouragement, discussion, advice or opinion from someone more experienced and capable, navigating the quickly-changing life of an adolescent alone can bring stress levels up to a colossal high. It is of the upmost importance that parents make absolutely sure that their child is ok; without guidance and someone to confide in, internal pressure from stress can violently explode in forms of self-harm.

On a partially related note, the rise in support for LGBT rights, acceptance and equality has been hugely noted by the youth. Some have been prompted to ‘come out’ as non-heterosexuals, and the movement is extremely important for teens during their most explorative years to realise what they identify as. With successful campaigns such as the Facebook rainbow ‘profile pictures’ being spread around and used by teens, the movement has helped distinctly with the LGBT teens. In some cases though, the embracing of LGBT activities or ‘coming out’ has led to self-harm behaviour.

Imagine yourself as an adolescent who finds they are bisexual. Now, imagine that your parent/s is/are homophobic. Being surrounded by anti-different ideals and behaviours at home whilst undergoing a transitional phase is, evidently, hard. Having to keep everything to yourself, having to change who you are around others, is going to take a massive toll on you emotionally. Even worse is that if your parents don’t support the LGBT movement, you can hardly discuss the things on your mind with them. And it doesn’t just apply to parents. At school, perhaps not on purpose, homophobic language is everywhere. New coat? That’s gay. Got the answer right when someone else didn’t? Gay. Staying behind after a lesson to consolidate your knowledge, extra revision before an exam, helping someone who doesn’t understand? You get the point. It is easy to see why LGBT teens would feel uncomfortable or unaccepted at school, where they spend most of their days. Of course, ridicule and accusations are going to lead to a build-up of stress and emotional pain. With nobody understanding, you can sympathise with the LGBT community and realise that sometimes the pressures and thoughts become too much.

My final point regarding stress is the one I find the most suited to my experience is regarding age. The 2014 HBSC England report found that young people aged 15 had the most weekly reports of trouble sleeping, with 40% of all 15 year olds identifying it. Sleep loss is both a key indicator and contributor to stress, and this is down to school work. I can tell you with full confidence that GCSEs become your life.  Every lesson is a constant reminder and every hour, minute, second is one closer to the daunting reality of the exams. Even the most well-prepared, almost perfect student will struggle to keep on top of revision, homework, social activities and winding down. With months unfortunately stacking up coursework on top of this, it surprised me that only 40% reported sleep loss more than once a week. This is one pressure that adds to the negative and depressive thinking that some teens show. Another comes from social stigmas. Self-harm is seen as a stigma in itself, those who self-harm being seen as weak or needy. Many of the adolescents may find confessing what they do for this reason. On top of this, the study also showed that in general young people find it harder to talk to their parents as they get older. Honestly this makes sense to me, for several reasons: 

a) the problems they’re likely to be facing are generally more private or intimate
b) teens enjoy independence and self-sufficiency
c) puberty brings about a concoction of hormones, making every conversation a ticking time bomb for confrontation
and d) you begin to realise that privacy and sorting issues out alone is important in life.

To conclude, I fully understand why the 15 year old population self-harm the most. A breakdown in communication combined with social and educational stress factors certainly leads towards major problems internally for teens. For this reason, I ask any parents reading this to make sure they have a strong, trusting link with their child and should commit completely to supporting and helping them with stress, especially during year 11.


Monday, 19 October 2015

How a Nuffield Foundation placement helped me...

Over the summer the Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care (CRIPACC) at the University of Hertfordshire hosted five Nuffield Foundation research placement students. Below is a guest blog post from Marium, reflecting on her research placement within the department... 

Throughout the course of my project I was working alongside a senior lecturer in dietetics, Jane McClinchy and the CRIPACC team at the University of Hertfordshire. My overall aim was to facilitate a whole research project that investigated the delivery of nutrition information given to patients with type 2 diabetes by community pharmacists. 

By working on this project I have learnt that more preventative measures can be taken to control type 2 diabetes without the need for expensive drugs that cost the NHS billions every year. Pharmacists hold a key position within the health care system and more must be done to train them in their roles. Additionally, over the 6 week placement I managed to develop my understanding of how research is conducted in the scientific community and I now feel confident in presenting my ideas to academics. 

This project was challenging yet thoroughly enjoyable. Working alongside other Nuffield students gave me a fun and rewarding experience this summer and the CRIPACC team were helpful throughout; I am privileged to have been part of this research centre.

Susanna, Sabrina, Chelsea, Diana & Marium

If you want to find out more about the Nuffield Foundation research placements check out Chelsea's blog post about using survey methodology (click here) and Susanna's reflections on using visual research methods (click here).

Thursday, 15 October 2015

HBSC England national report!

We are launching the World Health Organization (WHO) collaborative Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) England National Report today! This Department of Health funded study included over 5000 young people from across England.

The full report can be found here.

The report paints an important picture about the health and well-being of young people in England today and how young people’s health has changed over the last decade. Traditional risk behaviours such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and fighting are declining – with many showing the lowest reported prevalence since 2002. However healthy behaviours such as physical activity and healthy eating have not mirrored these positive changes over the last decade. The report also highlights young people’s emotional well-being as an area for concern.

You will find quotes from young people embedded throughout the report. Youth engagement is an important element of the HBSC England study, and it is important to capture young people’s interpretation of the findings.

Please take a look at the report and share within your networks!

Monday, 14 September 2015

Getting to grips with visual data

Over the summer the Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care (CRIPACC) at the University of Hertfordshire hosted five Nuffield Foundation research placement students. Last week Chelsea reflected on her time in CRIPACC (click here to read), and this week Susanna has written a guest blog post about her research placement exploring visual data…

Over my summer holiday, I dedicated four weeks working under the supervision of the Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care (CRIPACC), undertaking a project called ‘Content analysis of user generated images relating to older people and food’. During this placement, I was given a range of data such as images and videos gathered by the participants aged 60 and above. The data were collected from 21 households. The images had to be categorised into main and sub-themes after I’d familiarised myself with the method of content analysis from the books provided for me. For example I decided that photos showing food should have descriptive sub-themes such as healthy, unhealthy, home cooked and takeaway meals. This strategy made the differences amongst the images more evident. One of the aims of this research was to highlight if there were common trends present amongst the data. For instance, themes relating to older people going to bingo and social club gatherings were dominant whilst the theme of ‘grow your own’ fruit and veg was not as popular.

Below is an example of how I categorised one image taken by a participant’s wife (his face is blurred so that he cannot be identified):

My placement begun at 10:00 am and ended officially by 3:00 pm every day. As it was the summer holidays some of my supervisors were away, therefore as well as face to face meetings I could also email or Skype with them to ensure I received good advice to help my understanding of the research.

As a result of this four week placement, I have had the opportunity to improve on my confidence, working with others and as part of a team in a professional setting (as I worked in an office). I also worked alongside experts in their field of work. I have gained valuable insight concerning the field of health research. I was challenged to meet set deadlines as well as working independently to ensure these demands were met to a good quality standard. Moreover, I had the opportunity to speak to both a nutritionist and a dietician who provided me with insightful advice concerning their occupations (as it is a field I am interested in).

Furthermore, I had the opportunity to make new friends, increase my network and gain overall experience working with CRIPACC and the Nuffield Foundation. This experience was such a privilege and a pleasure.


Monday, 7 September 2015

My Nuffield Foundation research placement

Over the summer the Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care (CRIPACC) at the University of Hertfordshire hosted five Nuffield Foundation research placement students. Below is a guest post from Chelsea reflecting on her time in the department and the independent research she conducted...

Throughout the summer, I have been taking part in a Nuffield research placement at the University of Hertfordshire.

My project focused on investigating the nutritional information dietitians across England are using with their patients who have type 2 diabetes. This involved reviewing and implementing a previously piloted electronic survey via Survey monkey. In order to achieve my aims, I carried out field work such as meeting with a community pharmacist, who shared her views on the lack of a platform between dietitians and pharmacists. I also liaised with dietitians and staff at the university who were very supportive in reviewing my modified survey and making helpful suggestions and improvements. After 21 days, the online survey was closed and the findings analysed. The key trends were spotted and comparisons made.

It was a great opportunity to be able to get a placement on the Nuffield research scheme, as it provided me with experience through a hands on approach. I got an opportunity to carry out an entire study from start to finish whilst contributing to national research on a topic that affects 1 in 17 adults in the UK (Diabetes UK). I worked alongside professionals who have been noticed internationally for their research. Not only did the placement provide me with an insight into the field of research (an aspect of healthcare which I had never previously considered), but it also provided me with experience in a working environment. The placement at the university also equipped me with skills that would be useful when going into university such as a literature searching session on external electronic devices.

During my time at the University of Hertfordshire, I worked in the Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care (CRIPACC).The centre was very welcoming of me in my first week and have continuously shown that support throughout my placement. I even had the opportunity of attending their annual picnic where I had a chance to find out more about the work carried out in CRIPACC, as well as to meet a lay person who has previously worked with CRIPACC. Overall my experience here was truly insightful.

This research placement has really encouraged me to continue to pursue a career in the field of science and has shown me the variety of avenues available for me if I continue to work hard.


Monday, 3 August 2015

International trends in bullying

The English HBSC team collaborated on an international paper exploring the temporal trends of bullying victimization across Europe and North America. The paper entitled “Cross-national time trends in bullying victimization in 33 countries among children aged 11, 13 and 15 from 2002 – 2010” was published earlier this year as part of a supplement in the European Journal of Public Health1. The supplement focuses on international trends in young people’s health and their social determinants.

Bullying describes intentional harmful behaviours, which are carried out repeatedly against a weaker individual2. Bullying can take many forms including physical, verbal, relational and cyber (for more information on cyberbullying click here for our previous blog post).

Bullying is recognised as a health problem across Europe and North America. Studies have demonstrated that being a victim of bullying is associated with serious health consequences. Cross-national data from the HBSC study conducted in 1998 identified young people who were bullied were more likely to experience both physical (e.g. headaches and stomach aches) and psychological (e.g. feeling low and loneliness) symptoms, with a higher risk of symptoms as the frequency of bullying increased3. Moreover the consequences of bullying have been shown to persist into later life; longitudinal research has established victims of bullying were more likely to experience adverse health outcomes in adult life4. It is not just the victims of bullying who experience poor health outcomes, the bullies themselves fare worse than their peers not involved in bullying. A Finnish study found symptoms of anxiety and depression were equally as common among bullies and victims5, and bullies were most likely to engage in health risk behaviours such as excessive alcohol consumption and taking drugs6.

As bullying is a proven determinant of young people’s health and wellbeing it is important to monitor trends in bullying victimisation, and drawing on cross national comparisons allows lessons to be shared across countries.

The paper highlights that bullying is still a fairly common occurrence in the 33 countries which took part in the study. Since 2002 a third of countries have demonstrated significant downward trends in bullying for both boys and girls. Only one country (French Belgium) reported significant increasing trends in both occasional and chronic bullying. Gender differences in time trends were evident, with some countries presenting a decline in bullying for only one gender.

The paper raises important questions regarding the need for gender specific programmes to address bullying among both boys and girls, and the necessity for sustained effort in order to ensure the decline in bullying is continued across time.

For a more thorough discussion of the study’s findings read the full paper by clicking here.

  1. Chester, K. L., Callaghan, M., Cosma, A., Donnelly, P., Craige, W., Walsh, S. & Michal, M. (2015). Cross-national time trends in bullying victimization in 33 countries among children aged 11, 13 and 15 from 2002 – 2010Eur J Public Health, 25 (Suppl 2), 61-64.
  2. Olweus, D. (1993). Bullying at School: What We Know and What Can We Do. Oxford, England: Blackwell Publishers.
  3. Due, P., Holstein, B. E., Lynch, J., et al. (2005). Bullying and symptoms among school-aged children: international comparative cross sectional study in 28 countriesEur J Public Health15, 128–132.
  4. Wolke, D., Copeland, W. E., Angold, A. & Costello, E. J. (2013). Impact of bullying in childhood on adult health, wealth, crime, and social outcomesPsychological science, 24(10), 1958-1970.
  5. Kaltiala-Heino, R., Rimpela, M., Rantanen, P. & Rimpela, A. (2000). Bullying at school – an indicator of adolescents at risk for mental disordersJournal of Adolescence, 23 (6)661-674.
  6. Alikasifoglu, M., Erginoz, E., Ercan, O., Uysal, O. & Albayrak-Kaymak, D. (2007). Bullying behaviours and psychosocial health: results from a cross-sectional survey among high school students in Istanbul, TurkeyEur J Pediatr, 166, 1253-1260.      

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

What we think

The following blog post was written by Roman and Vato, both 15 years old, during their time spent with the HBSC England team for work experience. After studying HBSC England data they have provided an insightful account of adolescent life in order to interpret the findings. 

As students on work experience, we were given the chance to look at some data in order to interpret it; giving our own opinions on what that data could mean and why. Since adolescents are often tokenised and not really taken seriously, we were relieved when we actually had the chance to express ourselves.

Our main concern was the fact that so much adult attention was focused on the usage of risk behaviours in our age group. The media and even those in power seem to think that adolescents are all potheads that have replaced their blood with alcohol and their brains with nicotine. Safe to say, this is not actually true, and anyone who happens to believe this may want to contact their local GP. In any case, the risk behaviours were never truly significant anyway. They are simply a way for adolescents to entertain themselves and even escape reality, despite being extremely detrimental to one’s health. But honestly young people have learned this already.

With the education system constantly churning out new ways to teach both adolescents and children about the risk behaviours, our generation is more cautious about these dangers. Due to the past high levels of substance consumption, risk behaviours have almost become social norms and so they are not seen as “cool” anymore, which has led to the rates of consumption decreasing. From looking at the data, we theorised that the consumption of risk behaviours could be fluctuating. If this were the case, it might be that in a few years, the rates of consumption could increase yet again.

Honestly though, there is little point in focusing on risk behaviours. They are not the causes of adolescent problems, they are the effects. Teenagers turn to drugs when they are depressed. They smoke when they are lonely. They drink when they are stressed. Just a few examples of reality that should have been obvious. Substance usage happens because of a large variety of different internal problems, and while it could be that educating adolescents on substances is helpful, the focus should not be on the usage, it should be on why they are used, and what one could do instead. And even better, there should be so much more attention paid to the fact that Internal Problems Are Real.

When the government expects us to learn and develop at school, what they don’t realise is that they have given us three options:
  1. Good Grades                       
  2. Good Health                          
  3. A Social Life
And told us we can choose two.

With the current education system, adolescents are usually left almost completely busy with school work, meaning they barely have time for the activities they need to actually develop as human beings.

Let’s calculate it shall we?

6 hours of school per day, and for healthy living young people require 9-11 hours of sleep. Now we aren’t unfair, so we’ll go with 10. 6+10 = 16. This leaves 8 hours awake at home. Now maybe homework is not so intensive before GCSE’s, but it still eats quite a large amount of time, and when GCSE’s come into the picture, homework can take up to 5 hours per day. The government also recommends 1 hour of physical activity per day.

So. For an adolescent doing GCSE’s to be healthy and do work, they are left with 2-3 hours to eat, socialise, rest, pursue their interests, deal with the problems of puberty, connect with their family, deal with various drama and friendships, develop as humans, find out who they are beyond schoolwork, learn about the news of the world which will definitely concern them later on, think about life and what they want to do in the future, and actually live as nature intended.

2 hours. To do that. What the hell is wrong with you? (This is not to say all teenagers are left with 2 hours to live, it is simply a base picture. This can and does happen quite a bit.) In all seriousness, there is little wonder that adolescents are faced with so many internal struggles; stress, anxiety, depression. Not helpful when society and medial interaction states that they should be perfect or they won’t be loved. Not helpful when school rules dictate that if you forget a sock in P.E you will be faced with an after-school detention (I am not joking with you; this is actually what happens to us).

And beyond that, young people face the challenge of trying to communicate their problems to adults who don’t realise that even if their past seemed easy for them, it does not mean that now is easy for us. Some of them don’t even believe in mental health problems just because they can’t see them. Depression doesn’t leave bruises, but it still harms us. It still exists.

There are thousands of ways we could conclude this, talking about stereotype, empathy, the government. Michael Gove. But all we can truly do is give you what we have written. Take from it what you will.

Thank you for reading.

Roman and Vato.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Video gaming: it's all about moderation!

We have recently published an article in the Journal of Youth Studies entitled “Video gaming in adolescence: factors associated with leisure time use1.

Since video games first emerged in the 1970’s, with the likes of Pong and Space Invaders, the video game industry has become a significant sector of the economy; in the UK alone 1.4 million copies of Call of Duty Black Ops™ were bought on the games launch day2. Video games are now a regular feature of adolescent leisure time, with a recent UK based study suggesting 3 out of 4 young people play video games on a daily basis3. Technological developments have resulted in the gaming experiencing becoming increasingly more versatile; with the ability to play online with friends, interact physically with games and access games through mobile apps.

Traditionally much research has focused on the negative effects of playing video games. Studies have suggested video game play is associated with poorer mental health4 and impaired academic achievement5. In particular there is considerable debate around the implications of playing violent video games, with research suggesting that violent video game playing may be linked to an increase in aggressive behaviours6. More recently, research has begun to address the positive aspects of video gaming including improved social skills and problem solving7. Przybylski (2014) suggested a more nuanced understanding of gaming compared with the traditional dichotomous good vs bad divide; young people who played games for up to 1 hour a day demonstrated more positive outcomes than those who didn’t play at all, while the opposite was true for those who played for more than 3 hours a day.

Considering the potential negative outcomes of video game play, many countries and associations have issued recommended guidelines. In the UK, the Public Health Outcomes Framework9 is concerned with the negative impact of game play beyond moderate leisure time use, and as such is committed to monitoring levels of game play exceeding 2 hours or more. 

Data from the 2010 Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study in England10 identified  20% of girls and 55% of boys were playing video games for two or more hours on weekdays. Figure 1 (summarising HBSC England 2010 data) shows boys are more likely than girls to report playing video games for 2 or more hours a day during the week across all ages. Compared with data from the HBSC England 2006 survey, the proportion of both boys and girls who reported playing for more than two hours had significantly increased.

Our paper identified associations between young peoples’ video gaming levels and their social environment as well as their health and wellbeing. In line with previous work3, our research suggests video gaming is not intrinsically positive or negative. For boys, being in the middle category for game play was associated with having more friends of the opposite sex than those in the lowest category; and for girls it was associated with engaging in more family activities. In contrast, the highest levels of video gaming were found to be associated with negative aspects for both boys and girls. In particular, boys who reported playing video games for more than 4 hours a day during the week were more likely to report going to bed hungry, bullying others and being bullied.

The analysis demonstrates the important role parents play in structuring and regulating levels of video gaming among young people. Young people who reported their parents had a say in deciding how they spent their free time were less likely to play video games at the higher levels compared with those who had no parental input. However we found an interesting relationship between level of parental control and video gaming which supports the “boomerang effect” where young people with strictest parental mediation actually played video games more frequently!

For a more thorough discussion of this research you can access the published paper by clicking here.    

By clicking here, you can also read a guest blog post written by Sam and Tom (both aged 15) to find out what young people themselves think about video games.


  1. Brooks, F.M., Chester, K.L., Smeeton, N.C. & Spencer, N. (2015). Video gaming in adolescence: factors associated with leisure time use. Journal of Youth Studies, DOI: 10.1080/13676261.2015.1048200
  2. Dring, C. (2010). Black Ops smashes UK day 1 record. Retrieved 18th March 2015, from
  3. Przybylski, A.K. (2014). Electronic gaming and psychosocial adjustment. Pediatrics, 134(3), 1-7.
  4. Page, A.S., Cooper, A.R., Griew, P. & Jago, R. (2010). Children's screen viewing is related to psychological difficultiesirrespective of physical activityPediatrics, 126(5), e1011-e1017.
  5. Jaruratanasirikul, S., Wongwaitaweewong, K. & Sangsupawanich, P. (2009). Electronic game play and school performance of adolescents in southern Thailand. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 12(5), 509-512. 
  6. Gentile, D.A., Lynch, P.J., Linder, J.R. & Walsh, D.A. (2004). The effects of violent video game habits on adolescent hostility, aggressive behaviors, and school performance. Journal of Adolescence, 27(1), 5-22.
  7. Adachi, P.J.C. & Willoughby, T. (2013). More than just fun and games: the longitudinal relationships between strategic videogames, self-reported problem solving skills, and academic grades. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 42(7), 1041-1052.
  8. Department of Health. (2012). Report of the Children and Young Person’s Health Outcomes Forum. Retrieved 18th March 2015, from
  9. Brooks, F., Magnusson, J., Klemera, E., Spencer, N. & Morgan, A. (2011). HBSC England National Report. Findings from the2010 HBSC study for England. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire.