William Eichler 20 February 2019

UK youth ‘let down’ on long-term health issues

Youth in the UK are being ‘let down’ when it comes to treating long-term illnesses such as asthma, according to an independent health think tank.

The Nuffield Trust has compared the performance of the UK when it comes to the health of young people with 18 other high-income countries.

It found the UK has the highest rate of deaths from asthma for young people aged 10-24, compared to all European countries in the comparator group, and the fourth highest overall behind the USA, Australia and New Zealand.

The report, which was published with the Association for Young People’s Health, also estimates that nearly one in five young people in the UK are living with a long-standing health condition.

The UK is ‘one of the worst countries’ for young people to suffer from years lost to ill health and the burden of diseases like diabetes, according to the study.

It also has the highest rates of obesity in 15- to 19-year-olds compared to the 14 European countries in the comparator group.

The study also highlighted health inequalities. The UK also has one of the greatest differences in obesity levels between young people living in the poorest areas of the country and the richest, the research discovered.

Trends in health-related behaviours like smoking and alcohol consumption have been improving in recent years, with falls in smoking rates and use of cannabis.

However, the UK is ‘in the middle of the pack’ compared to other countries on some indicators for young people, including cancer mortality, smoking, alcohol consumption and cannabis use.

‘Making sure we have a healthy population requires us all to do our bit,’ said Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust.

‘More than ever, young people are holding up their side of the bargain, with more of them choosing to smoke and drink less, yet our health system seems to be getting something badly wrong. I worry this reflects a dangerous complacency.

‘Young people in the UK are entering adulthood with more long-term health conditions and as a result a poorer quality of life, storing up problems further down the line.

‘If we don’t take action now, the next generation will be entering adulthood sicker than the one before it.’

Emma Rigby, chief executive at the Association for Young People’s Health said: ‘The crucial thing to note here is how important long-term health conditions are in the 10-24 age group.

‘We need more understanding of young people’s health needs, improved support for young people to understand and manage their own health, and we need to provide more youth friendly health services.

‘This will help improve our standing internationally in terms of youth health outcomes.’

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