Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Christmas 2019: Fight the Power

Youth activism for health: taking the future into their own hands

BMJ 2019; 367 doi: (Published 17 December 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;367:l6881
  1. Juliet Dobson, digital content editor
  1. The BMJ, London, UK
  1. jdobson{at}

From climate change to healthcare, young leaders are taking a stand and making their voices heard, writes Juliet Dobson

In September 2019, Greta Thunberg, a 16 year old Swedish schoolgirl and activist, took to the stage at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York to tell the world’s leaders that they were failing to tackle the climate emergency.

She called them out for their “betrayal” of young people—the generation that has most to lose from their inaction.

In 2018 Thunberg had started school strikes, with pupils worldwide skipping class to demonstrate for action to prevent further global heating. Thunberg has since become a poster girl for the cause, inspiring millions of people of all ages to protest.1 The strike before the UN summit was estimated to be the largest climate protest ever, with over four million people marching globally.2 And polling in September showed that the public in seven out of the eight countries surveyed view the climate crisis as the most important problem facing the world.3

Increasingly, young people are taking their future into their own hands, frustrated by government inaction on issues that will affect the younger generation the most. Jamie Margolin and Nada Nazarin founded Zero Hour in 2017, when they were 15, to campaign about the climate emergency. Amy and Ella Meek, 16 and 13, set up a charity, Kids Against Plastic to fight single-use plastic. They have been joined and supported by many other young people who are fed up that those in power are constantly ignoring issues they feel strongly about. Social media has helped spread and amplify their message and coordinate action.4 Ahead of the UN climate change conference in December 2019, the UN secretary general, António Guterres, compared this youth leadership and mobilisation with government inaction, …

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