Report looks at the health and wellbeing of young people in Wales

Researchers say schools and society as a whole have a role to play in helping young people tackle numerous challenges around their health and wellbeing.

The School Health Research Network is led by Professor Simon Murphy at Cardiff University and is the largest network of its type in the world. The network includes every Welsh secondary school and conducts a biennial survey in partnership with Welsh Government and Public Health Wales.

Cardiff University say the report offers new insights into the experiences and challenges faced by young people on issues such as health, social media use, school work and alcohol consumption.

Simon Murphy, based at the Centre for Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvements (DECIPHer), said “Our study reveals the real issues affecting young people today. Although much work has been done to successfully promote health and wellbeing in schools, results demonstrate that there are key areas where schools and students need further support and guidance.”

Dr Graham Moore at DECIPHer Cardiff University has led the biennial study which analysed survey data gathered from more than one hundred thousand pupils, 65% of the secondary school population in Wales.

He said “We can see there have been some significant improvements in the health and wellbeing of teenagers in Wales over the past 10 to 25 years. Rates of weekly smoking and drinking alcohol have declined as has the proportion of students who report first sex at a young age. Other areas, however, have shown no improvement – such as their overall life satisfaction and physical activity – and self-rated health is an area that has significantly worsened.”

Key findings from the report include:

  • One in five young people said they had fair or poor health, compared 25% saying they had excellent health and 53% saying they had good health
  • 31% of pupils reported irritability or sleep issues
  • 15% of year 7 pupils and 46% of year 11 pupils looked at an electronic screen after 11pm on a school night
  • 20% of girls and 15% of boys were classified as “problematic social media” users (as measured by the social media disorder scale)
  • More than 80% of young people reported they felt some degree of pressure from their school work with 24% reporting “a lot” of pressure. The proportion reporting “some” or “a lot” of pressure more than doubled from year 7 to year 11
  • 16% of young people said they had a caring responsibility for someone in their family as a result of them being disabled, physically or mentally unwell or having a problem with alcohol or drugs. Of these young carers, one quarter said they looked after more than one person, representing 4% of all young people
  • 94% of sexually active young people had had sex below the age of consent, although the most frequently cited age for first sex was 15 years old (45%)
  • 20% of sexually active young people said they had first had sex at age 13 years or younger. The proportion was higher among boys than girls (24% and 16% respectively) and among those from the least affluent households (25%)
  • 48% of young people said they do not drink alcohol and 44% said they drank less than weekly

Simon Murphy said “Our extensive and far-reaching report illustrates that young people in their teenage years have a huge number of different issues to contend with. By researching their views and experiences on this scale, we are able to offer tangible insights into what their concerns are and how parents, teachers and policymakers can help them as they make the journey into adulthood.”

Student Health and Wellbeing In Wales: Report of the 2017/18 Health Behaviour in School-aged Children Survey and School Health Research Network Student Health and Wellbeing Survey, is available here.

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