WHO study examines teenage health in 28 countries

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 12 February 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:402
  1. James Ciment
  1. New York

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) last week released its fourth survey on the health and health related behaviour of young school students in Europe, the former Soviet Union, North America, and Israel.

    The health behaviour in school aged children (HBSC) study involved 120000 young people between the ages of 11 and 15 in 28countries and regions. It examined health related issues, including tobacco and alcohol use, medication patterns, exercise, eating habits, mental health, self image, peer relationships, and attitudes toward school, family, and community.

    The findings are quite mixed, and the only overall pattern is one of diversity. For example, although daily smoking was highest in Greenland (56% and 45% of 15 year old girls and boys respectively), alcohol consumption peaked in Wales, where half of that same age group drank alcohol at least once a week.

    In England in this age group 24% of girls and 21% of boys smoked daily, and 36% of girls and 47% of boys drank weekly.

    For both smoking and drinking, US teenagers in this age group were more restrained than their counterparts in most European and former Soviet countries—just 12% of boys and 13% of girls smoked daily, and only 15% of girls and 23% of boys consumed alcohol on a weekly basis.

    The survey also found a link in most countries between teenagers who smoked and drank and those who found it difficult to talk to their parents.

    On the question of exercise, the survey found that the most active teenagers lived in Northern Ireland and the least active in Slovakia, Israel, and Lithuania.

    Teenagers in Northern Ireland, however, also displayed the worst eating habits, with about 80% of both sexes consuming confectionery on a daily basis.

    WHO officials who helped to coordinate the various national surveys say that they are encouraged by several overall trends. “We found that there is a very strong correlation between young people's attitudes, feelings, and thoughts about school and health behaviour,” said David Rivett, a technical adviser on the study.

    He added: “When we find young people are more satisfied about school they are less likely to take up damaging behaviour. With this study, we are trying to identify what works in school health programmes.”

    Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children is available at

    Embedded Image

    Percentage of teenagers aged 15 eating sweets or chocolates daily, according to country 1997-8. France, Germany, and Russia are represented only by regions

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