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Brussels, 9 July 2009

Questions and answers on the EU Youth Health Initiative

What do we know about the current state of health of young people in Europe?

The health of children and young people in Europe is generally good. Mortality is low and severe chronic diseases are rare. The majority of young people enjoy good health, with trends suggesting that the situation is likely to further improve in the future. That is not to say, however that there aren't causes for concern. Far too many young people adopt lifestyles which in the long term will reduce their ability to lead healthy and productive lives, thus endangering their future. Another cause for concern is the health inequalities that are found, as with adults, within children and young people between and within European countries.

Here are some facts and figures in the EU:

  • In the EU 27 countries between 2003 and 2005, injury deaths accounted for 65% of deaths among those aged 15-24 years. The leading causes of fatal unintentional injuries among 0-19 year-olds in Europe were road traffic (39%), drowning (14%), poisoning (7%), fires (4%) and falls (4%) .

  • Diet-related chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and obesity are highly prevalent in Europe. Obesity is the diet-related disease of primary concern among young people, with associated health problems on the increase.

  • The prevalence of overweight in children and adults is high and varies across countries in Europe. Half of all adults and 1 in 5 children in Europe are overweight.

  • Up to a third of boys and up to half of girls at age 15, report to feeling 'low' more than once a week .

  • Up to 30% of boys and up to 36% of girls at age 15 smoke at least once a week.

  • Between 39% and 51% of 15 year old girls and boys, respectively, drink alcohol at least once a week. These percentages narrow down when reporting being drunk twice or more a week is considered (56% and 59%, respectively).

  • Between 28% and 32% of 15 year old girls and boys, respectively, report they are overweight or obese.

What is the EU approach to youth and health?

As many of the health problems young people will encounter as adults – problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, cancers and mental disorders – will have their genesis in the child and adolescent years, the transition from childhood to adulthood is a crucial period in which to address health determinants.

Among young people, health should be considered in its widest sense, in line with the WHO definition of health: "Health is not merely the absence of disease, but a state of complete physical, psychological, and social well-being".

Thus, in addition to mortality, morbidity and disorders, our concept of health in young people covers physical capacity (e.g. fitness, vitality), psychological functioning (e.g. positive expectations about the future, learning abilities, self-esteem), social relationships (e.g. friends, sexual life, seeking one’s life mate) and environmental potentials (e.g. opportunities to acquire new information and skills, possibilities for leisure activities, the physical environment).

What issues will be addressed during the Youth Health Conference on 9 & 10 July in Brussels?

The conference will revolve around 6 main themes:

  • Communicating health

  • Creating healthy environments

  • No limits: learning how to deal with risk

  • Promoting young people's health through social/youth work and non-formal education

  • Promoting the health of young people in the workplace

  • Education as a driver for better health

The conference will be opened by a round table aimed at exchanging views on how young people can be empowered to have a real and systematic say about their health. On the second day of the conference, two sets of parallel sessions will take place.

The first set will be focused on the following themes: Communicating health, Partnerships for Healthy Environments, and Learning how to deal with Risk. These sessions will deal with key youth health issues such as alcohol, mental health, nutrition and physical activity, drugs.

The second set will focus on Youth health in key settings with themes being, amongst others, the health of young people in the workplace, the educational setting, services for young people, inclusion of disadvantaged young people.

A panel debate, on a Youth health action framework, will complete these two parallel sessions. The debate will address the feasibility of setting up, among all stakeholders involved, a new Youth Health Action framework, involving young people in the decision-making process related to their health.

What is the expected outcome of the conference?

The primary aim of the conference is to listen to young people and to involve them in decision-making processes about their health. It also aims to generate commitment from stakeholders to improve the health of young people, to involve other sectors across EU policy areas and at national level on the implementation of prevention programmes targeted at young people and to support member states' activities on the health of young people.

As an immediate follow up to the conference, a short document highlighting the main suggestions/issues raised within the Youth Camp and during the conference will be prepared in cooperation with the European Youth forum and other selected stakeholders. This document will be the first step in building a roadmap setting out implementation and next steps on the priorities.

The roadmap will concentrate on four areas of intervention:

  • Empowerment and participation;

  • Inequalities and vulnerability;

  • Communicating health;

  • Mainstreaming these principles across EU health policy.

What is the Commission already doing to improve the health of young people in the EU?

Youth is already a key target in a number of EU health initiatives led by the Commission. For example, the Help campaign, "for a life without tobacco" targets primarily young people and young adults. The campaign aims to empower young people to take control of their health and lifestyles, instead of simply being objects in the eyes of the media. This campaign is being fully developed with the help and advice of the target group: both individuals and youth organisations. For example, the idea for one of the new TV spots has come directly from an Internet consultation with young people and the Youth Health forum contributed to this campaign by producing a youth manifesto giving their views on appropriate measures to better prevent tobacco's effects.

Youth is also a target group in numerous actions on health promotion initiated by the EU key stakeholders of the EU Platform for action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health.

In addition, many youth-related projects have been co-financed by the Health Programme (2003-2008) and are being co-financed under the current Health Programme (2008-2013) "Together for Health". These programmes are intended to complement, support and add value to the policies of the Member States and contribute to increased solidarity and prosperity in the European Union by protecting and promoting human health and safety and by improving public health.

Where can I find out more?

European Commission website on the youth health initiative with background reports:

EU Health Strategy 2008-2013:

Health determinants:

"Inequalities in young people's health" The HBSC international report from the 2005/2006 survey:

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