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Keeping young people healthy

Keeping young people healthy

Youth Affairs Minister John Tamihere and Health Minister Annette King believe New Zealanders need to place more value on young people to help improve their overall health status.

Mr Tamihere is in Manukau today to launch a new plan aimed at improving the health of young people aged 12 to 24.

“Our young people are a tremendous asset - not just for our future - but right now. Statistics show, however, that we are not taking enough care of them,” Mr Tamihere said.

“We have to do better for all our rangatahi, especially for young Maori, who continue to suffer a greater degree of ill health, and have a higher death rate than non-Maori youth.”

Ms King said the new youth health action plan includes practical ways to improve the health and well-being of all young New Zealanders.

“This plan proposes a shift in the way the health sector has traditionally seen young people: from being `at risk' and a `problem to be solved', to being valued participants in the community's effort to create a healthier environment,” she said.

“It also creates exciting opportunities for young people to actively participate in health policy and service development so they can be involved in decisions that affect them.”

The action plan, drawn up with an expert group of people working in youth health, emphasises the need for the health sector to reach out more actively and be more responsive to young people.

It looks at the various environments in which young people live and interact -- whanau (family), education, community, primary health care, hospital and specialist health services and District Health Boards (DHBs) -- and includes almost 40 recommended action points.

Mr Tamihere said that by international standards, young New Zealanders have unacceptably high rates of suicide, teen pregnancies, drug and alcohol abuse and accidental deaths.

“Devising effective ways of keeping young people mentally healthy is a priority, and while the recent decline in youth suicide rates is encouraging, we still have a long way to go. Some of the practical suggestions in this youth health action plan will get us a step closer.”

He said innovative, community-initiated school based health centres for young people are already running in some areas, such as Rotorua.

“These wellness centres in the city's Western Heights High School, Rotorua Lakes High School, Rotorua Girls' High School, Rotorua Boys' High School and the rural Reporoa College are effective examples of community-driven collaboration between health and education agencies,” he said.

“They are doing the sorts of things that are advocated in the youth health action plan and I am excited by the very real possibilities offered by this sort of collaboration. International evidence shows school-based health services are an effective way to provide health care to youngsters and help set early intervention habits.”

Mr Tamihere noted that some recommended action points are outside the health sector.

“All New Zealanders share the responsibility of making sure young people feel valued, safe and healthy,” he said.

“Ensuring that all schools have anti-bullying programmes in place, raising kids' awareness of issues facing new migrants and gay and lesbian students, and encouraging local bodies to create youth-friendly spaces and recreational opportunities are also areas promoted in the plan.”

In the next few months the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Youth Affairs will begin taking the key action plan messages around the country. The Ministry of Health also intends to work with the Ministry of Education on finding ways to extend school-based health services.

For more information see the Youth Health: A Guide to Action and Youth Health Status Report at www.moh.govt.nz

The Ministry of Youth Affair's Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa is available at: www.youthaffairs.govt.nz

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