Scots children face some of the worst health inequalities in Europe

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Experts show 15-year-olds have multiple health complaints and are undergoing more stress caused by school than most others

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16th March 2016 by Paul Cardwell 0 Comments

Scottish children suffer some of the highest rates of health and social inequality in Europe and North America, new research has found.

The World Health Organisation Europe (WHO) Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study found Scottish boys showed the highest level of inequality for multiple health complaints. Scottish girls have above average levels of inequality in regards to the same health complaints but also face more pressure from schoolwork than most others.

The report, which was led by academics at the University of St Andrews, presents new data on adolescent health, health behaviours and social determinants from 42 countries.

It found young people in Scotland from the least affluent households (lowest 20%) report poorer results on a number of health indicators than those from the most affluent households (highest 20%).

As well as inequality with regards health complaints, the findings found Scottish boys showed the highest level of inequality for taking part in moderate physical activity and tobacco and cannabis use. Scottish girls showed the highest levels of inequality for ease of communication with their fathers and 15-year olds were more likely to report multiple health complaints compared to the average.

We recognise that there are deeply ingrained health inequalities in Scotland - something which has existed for generations and which will not be solved overnight

The proportion of 15-year olds in Scotland who report feeling ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ of schoolwork pressure was shown to be increasing. In 2014, Scottish 15-year olds ranked 2nd out of 41 countries on this measure.

While the prevalence of drunkenness among 15-year olds has been on a downward trajectory since 1998, Scotland remains one of the countries with the highest prevalence in this age group of around one third. Alcohol consumption is one of the few topics in the HBSC survey for which there are no socioeconomic differences in Scotland.

On a more positive note, the report found younger Scots faring better. The research found 11-year olds in Scotland do better on a number of health indicators compared with many of their European counterparts. For example, a greater proportion of 11-year olds in Scotland reported having high life satisfaction compared to the international average.

Commenting on the report and the Scottish findings Dr Inchley, deputy director of the Child and Adolescent Health Research Unit based at St Andrews, said: “The findings provide a better understanding of some of the issues facing young people today. It is encouraging that 11 year olds in Scotland are doing well compared with many of their European counterparts, but we see a clear worsening of health and wellbeing during the adolescent years.

“Particularly concerning is the increase in school-related stress which may be contributing to poorer mental wellbeing especially among 15 year old girls.

“It is essential that we look at ways of providing support to young people to help them navigate the challenges they face during adolescence.”

Jamie Hepburn, minister for sport, health improvement and mental health, said although there were some positive findings, particularly with regards to 11-year-olds, the government acknowledged Scotland does face problems.

“We recognise that there are deeply ingrained health inequalities in Scotland - something which has existed for generations and which will not be solved overnight,” he said.

"At its root this is an issue of income inequality - and we need a shift in emphasis from dealing with the consequences to tackling the underlying causes, such as ending poverty, fair wages, supporting families and improving our physical and social environments.

"The Scottish Government is already doing as much as we can with the powers we currently have to address inequality, through measures such as driving investment in affordable housing, free school meals and continuing the social wage commitments including free prescriptions, concessionary travel and free personal care, as well as taking decisive action to address alcohol consumption, reduce smoking rates, encourage active living, healthy eating, and promote positive mental health.”