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Teenagers' health and wellbeing improving

8 December 2007

Teenagers' health and wellbeing improving

In general, today's secondary school students are happier about their lives, less likely to be depressed, have better nutrition and physical activity behaviours and are less likely to be using cigarettes and marijuana than students in 2001.

These new research findings come from Youth'07, New Zealand's second national secondary school health and wellbeing survey, conducted by the Adolescent Health Research Group at The University of Auckland. These findings are compared with the first such survey, conducted by the group in 2001.

The survey was done in over 100 randomly selected secondary schools from around the country with a total of nearly 9,500 students.

"The Youth2000 surveys are unique. They are the largest and most comprehensive health and wellbeing surveys of young people in New Zealand and they're about young people themselves telling us how they see their lives - from their perspective," says Dr Simon Denny of the University's Department of Paediatrics and the Principal Investigator in the study.

"The proportion of students with concerning levels of depressive symptoms, suicidal thoughts and behaviours has decreased markedly since 2001 and students in 2007 were less likely to be using cigarettes and marijuana than students six years ago"

"However there are areas we are still worried about" says Dr Denny. "A concerning percentage of young people and their families face socio-economic hardship, there was a significant number of young people who experience severe violence in their lives and the frequency and amount of alcohol young people are drinking remains a problem."

The surveys are undertaken by the Adolescent Health Research Group as part of their aim to provide timely and accurate information for policy-makers, parents, schools and communities to improve the health status of young people.

The research is funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand, the Department of Labour, Families Commission, Accident Compensation Corporation, Sport and Recreation New Zealand, the Alcohol Advisory Council of New Zealand, and the Ministries of Youth Development, Justice, Health and Te Puni Kokiri. Support for the electronic communication of the Youth'07 project was provided by Vodafone New Zealand.


Key Research Results

Positive Findings

• In 2007 about three quarters of students say that they are happy with their family relationships and that their families get on well. Most students (92%) say that at least one of their parents care about them a lot.

• More students in 2007 than in 2001 report feeling connected to school and feeling safe at school. Missing school in the last month because of bullying has dropped from 10% to 4% over the 6 years between surveys.

• Most students (81%) feel safe in their neighbourhood. Students who reported that their friends care about them increased from 63% in 2001 to 72% in 2007. More students reported that they belonged to a youth group or club - an increase, from 51% in 2001 to 59% in 2007. Just over half of the 2007 students have an adult outside their family they can talk to in the community if they have a serious problem.

• About one-third of students attend a place of worship weekly or more often and 29% report that their spiritual beliefs are very important to them. These percentages have not changed since 2001.

• Students' emotional wellbeing has improved markedly since 2001. In 2007 92% of students reported being OK or very happy with their lives compared to 86% in 2001. Fewer students in 2007 reported significant depressive symptoms (12.4% in 2001 down to 10.6% in 2007) and fewer students had attempted suicide in the last 12 months (7.8% in 2001 down to 4.7% in 2007).

• About a third of students reported that they had ever had sexual intercourse - this was unchanged from 2001.

• Students' cigarette and marijuana use has declined. Only 8% of students report smoking cigarettes weekly or more often in 2007 compared to 16% in 2001. Fewer students had ever tried smoking cigarettes - down from 52% in 2001 to 32% in 2007. Similarly, the number of students who have ever used marijuana has also decreased from 39% in 2001 to 27% in 2007.

• Some nutrition and physical activity behaviours improved between 2001 and 2007. More students reported that they always eat breakfast - an increase from 51% in 2001 to 58% in 2007. Some students are more active but more students reported spending time watching TV or using the internet in 2007 than in 2001.

Findings of Concern:

• 10-20% of students live in families facing significant adversity, including food insecurity, due to economic hardship, and are unable to access health care or dental care when they need it.

• Almost a half of students (45%) report not getting enough time with their parents - usually because their parents are busy with work.

• The numbers of students who binge drink remains high - 34% of students report binge drinking at least once in the last 4 weeks.

• Approximately one-third of New Zealand secondary school students are overweight or obese.

• Being hit or physically harmed in the last 12 months was reported by 41% of students. Among those who had been hit or physically harmed, approximately one-quarter reported the severity of the violence was pretty bad, really bad or terrible.

• The proportion of students who witnessed adults physically hitting or hurting other adults in the home in the last 12 months which has increased from 6% in 2001 to 10% in 2007.

• One in five students reported being sent nasty or threatening messages by cell phone or internet. Thirteen percent of students were sent unwanted sexual material, of which 52% was received by cell phone and 44% by the internet.


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