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Queen’s-led study tracks trends in youth health behaviour


Positive school experiences and good family relationships exert an important influence on almost all aspects of young people’s health, a new Queen’s University-led national study shows.

On the other hand, family wealth and peer relationships have both positive and negative influences on youth health.

These are just a few of the findings from the new youth behaviour report released today in Ottawa by the Public Health Agency of Canada. The report examines smoking, alcohol and drug use, physical activity and body image, eating patterns, emotional health and injuries in children aged 11 to 15. More than 9,500 students from Grades 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 participated in 2006.

The Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) survey has been carried out in Canada every four years since 1990 by the Social Program Evaluation Group (SPEG) at Queen’s, in partnership with the Public Health Agency of Canada. The study is supported by the World Health Organization and involves research teams from 41 countries in North America and Europe. The new report examines the health settings and contexts of young people in relation to their health attitudes and behaviours.

Among key findings from the study (comparing 2006 to 2002):

• Daily smoking among both boys and girls has declined significantly, especially in Grade 10, with a drop from 15% down to 4% of boys, and a drop from 11% down to 6% for girls. The proportion of students getting “really drunk” twice or more has also declined slightly among Grade 10 students. In 2006, the proportion of boys in Grade 10 who report ever trying cannabis dropped to 38% from 50% in 2002, whereas, the proportions for girls were similar across the two years, at about two-fifths.

• Almost half of students are physically inactive. Fewer than half report daily consumption of fruits or vegetables, and only half report daily consumption of low-fat/skim milk. The problems of inactivity, obesity and poor nutrition are particularly apparent in youngsters from homes with the lowest levels of family wealth.

• Health-risk behaviours such as smoking, drinking and marijuana use are strongly associated with lower academic achievement, a less positive attitude towards school, not living with both parents and having poorer parental trust and communication. Also, those who report that they find it easier to talk with friends have higher rates of substance use.

• Most forms of bullying have decreased in the past four years. However, more than one-third of students have still been victims of bullying. More students – about 40% – from higher-income families acknowledge they have bullied others.

• From 31 to 48 % of boys and girls in Grades 6 to 10 report one or more medically-treated injuries in a 12-month period. School factors – particularly, higher academic achievement levels – are associated with lower occurrences of serious injury.

• While emotional health is similar for both boys and girls in Grade 6, by Grade 10 girls experience poorer emotional health than boys. Higher levels of parental trust and communication are much more important to young people’s emotional health than living with both parents, or to family wealth.

• Positive attitudes of one’s friends towards others have a protective influence on emotional health and well-being.

“Improving school and family strengths may indicate the best opportunity for success of youth health interventions,” says SPEG director Dr. William Boyce, who edited and contributed to the report. “At the same time, the greatest need for interventions appears to be within the peer context and in social income policy. Further research is needed to investigate how these protective factors combine with risk factors and lead to health improvement or to poor health in young people.”

Other Queen’s contributors to the report are: Wendy Craig (Psychology), Will Pickett (Community Health and Epidemiology), Ian Janssen (Kinesiology and Health Studies), John Freeman, Matt King, Don Klinger and Hana Saab from the Faculty of Education; and Frank Elgar from Carleton University.

An executive summary of findings, in English and French, is available upon request. The complete study may be accessed on-line.


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