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EACEA National Policies Platform


7. Health and Well-Being

7.1 General context

Last update: 28 November 2023
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  1. Main trends in the health conditions of young people
  2. Main concepts

Main trends in the health conditions of young people

Participation among children and adolescents in sport clubs and organized physical activities is very high in Iceland, but participation starts decreasing from the age of thirteen. According to students in upper secondary schools (age 16-20 years) about 45% are physically active 4 times a week or more, about 35% are physically active 1-3 times a week and around 20% do not participate in sports clubs or are physically active.

In 2016, 5% of students in upper secondary schools, (age 16-20 years) were using smoking tobacco and 38% were using alcohol. This has been decreasing for almost two decades. Other substance abuse was 18% (2016), but that has also been decreasing slowly over the last decade. It is interesting to see that only 5% of students in compulsory schools, age 15, were using alcohol in the spring 2016, when the same adolescents started upper secondary schools in the fall 2016 the percentage had increased to 25%. However, over the last two decades a great effort has been done to decrease the number of adolescents who start drinking at the age 15 or younger. In 1998, 42% of adolescents in compulsory schools, age 15, used alcohol compared to 5% in 2016. The Icelandic Centre for Social Research and Analysis (ICSRA) has led this work in close collaboration with the Icelandic Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, municipalities throughout Iceland and NGO´s.

There are though certain things that need to considered; more young people evaluate their mental health poorer than before, showing symptoms of anxiety, depression and loneliness. Further information (Icelandic): Youth, upper secondary school report, youth surveys from 1992 - 2013 (2014) file:///C:/Users/ingibjorg/Downloads/ungt_folk_framhaldss_2013.pdf

The Icelandic Centre for Social Research and Analysis (ICSRA)

ICSRA has conducted the national Youth in Iceland program of surveys among 10-20 year old children and adolescents, consisting of extensive data collection and information dissemination concerning family and adolescent welfare. This evidenced, covering a wide spectrum of important health and social issues concerning adolescents, including smoking and alcohol use, school satisfaction, health behavior, and academic achievement, physical activity and participation in sports, adolescent emotional well-being, suicidal behavior, and studies of custodial care of adolescents. National youth population surveys have been conducted among students in upper secondary schools (age 16-20) in the years; 1992, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2013 and 2016 and in compulsory schools every year among adolescents (age 13-15).

The outcome development from 1992 is very positive in general. Now parents are more likely to know where their adolescent are during the evening or night and with whom they are. Parentally support, supervision and communication is an effective prevention. Consumption of fruit and vegetables has increased among young people, and at the same time consumption on sugary soft drinks reduced. Through the years, the percentage of upper secondary school students continues to decline according to substance abuse, becoming drunk and tobacco use. Further information (English):

Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC)

Iceland participates in HBSC surveys, students aged 11, 13 and 15. This is a cross-national study gaining insight into young people's well-being, health behaviors and their social context. This research collaboration with the WHO Regional Office for Europe, conducted every four years in 47 countries and regions across Europe.

According to HBSC surveys outcome, overweight rate is higher in Iceland than in most European countries. The prevalence of overweight and obesity is not increasing but remains high. About 20% of Icelandic adolescent, age 15, are overweight or obese. Icelandic adolescents, especially girls, are also more likely than most European adolescents to engage in weight-reduction behavior, meaning they are on a diet or doing something else to lose weight.

HBSC also reports a decrease of daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) is clearly shown between ages 11 and 15. Icelandic adolescent aged 15, 25% boys and 14% girls, report to do at least 60 minutes of MVPA daily, and that is rather higher percentage than in most European countries. Further information (English):

Iceland also participates in the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD).  Further information (English):  

The Directorate of Health, collects data, conducts surveys and collects and records statistics about health and well-being. Further information (Icelandic): 

Statistics Iceland (“Hagstofan”). The population projection is based on information from the National Register of Persons on population, births, deaths, migration and projected average life expectancy for the coming years. Iceland Statistics revises the population projection annually. Further information (English):

Social indicators (“Félagsvísar”) (2016), a product from the Icelandic Welfare Watch as a part of the Presidency Programme 2014. Statistics Iceland publishes selected indicators. Information available e.g. about participation in upper secondary school at the age 16-17 that is very high 90% but dropout is also very high at the age 18-20 were participation is 60%. Employment rate, age 16-24 is 80% (2015) and working full time is 45% (2015). Unemployment in the age group 16-24 was almost 5% in the year 2000, increased after the economic collapse, and went up to 16% 2009-2010. Unemployment in that age group has decreased again and was 6,5% in 2016.  Further information (Icelandic):  

Youth, age 20-24, living in their parents houses is 55% and that is considerably higher percentage compared to other Nordic countries. Further information (Icelandic):

Health history of Icelanders (“Heilsusaga Íslendinga”). A large Cohort study is taking place on the health of Icelanders, age 20 – 69 (ongoing), part of the Global Cohort Initiative. Further information (Icelandic):

The NordChild Study. This is a cross-sectional time series postal study among children aged 2-17 years from the five Nordic countries; Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, organised by the Nordic School of Public Health in 1984, 1996 and 2011. The study included questions about the child and its family, the health of the child, health care utilization, the child’s own activities and activities together with the parents. The questionnaire also included questions about socioeconomic factors and the parents’ health and wellbeing. Further information (English):

Studies conducted at the University of Iceland in recent years, on health, physical activity and physical condition of children and adolescents in connection with lifestyle diseases:

  • Health behavior of young Icelanders (“Heilsuhegðun ungra Íslendinga”). Follow up study with students born 1999. Further information (Icelandic):
  • Physical condition of young Icelanders (“Atgervi ungra Íslendinga”). Follow up study with students born 1988 and 1994. Further information (Icelandic):

School pulse (“Skólapúlsinn”). This simple self-assessment tool provides school administrators and teachers regular and reliable information about students compared to national average. The surveys provide information about the student’s well-being and school atmosphere. Surveys are available for compulsory schools and upper secondary schools. Further information (Icelandic):



Main concepts

It is right to mention two things that could add to the picture of the health and welfare stated for youth in Iceland, in Chapter 7: