Main trends in the health conditions of young people
- Main trends in the health conditions of young people
Youth trends in the health and well-being of young people in Italy are mainly examined through the research activities of HBSC (Health Behaviour in School-aged Children) Italy (Cf. 7.4.) and the surveys of the National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT). ISTAT collects and systematizes the surveys on adolescence and adolescents in the Giovani.Stat database, divided into thematic areas including “Lifestyles and health”.
Italy has participated in the HBSC study since 2001. The data from the V surveillance of HBSC Italy, referring to the questionnaires administered in 2018 to 58,976 children aged 11, 13 and 15 years, show that adolescents have a high perception of their quality of life, feel supported by friends and classmates and have a good relationship with teachers. The survey, however, highlights how some wrong and risky health habits persist.
Among the topics investigated are:
• Smoking: 24.8% of boys and 31.9% of girls report having smoked cigarettes at least one day in the last 30 days, highlighting a marked gender difference at 15 years. The percentage of young people who smoked at least one cigarette in their life is slightly down compared to 2014, the year of the previous survey;
• Cannabis use: Consumption of cannabis for at least one day in the last 30 days shows a slight difference between boys (16.2%) and girls (11.4%) at 15. This question was not asked of the 11 and 13 years old. The percentage of young people who have reported using cannabis at least once in their life is slightly higher than in 2014;
• Alcohol consumption: the share of those who claim to have consumed alcohol at least 1 day in the last 30 days increases with age in both boys and girls, with gender differences in all three age groups. This phenomenon is in line with 2014;
• Binge drinking (drinking 5 or more glasses of alcoholic beverages). Binge drinking is a more frequent phenomenon in boys (22.8% compared to 17.1% of girls) and increases with age. The phenomenon of binge drinking is on the rise compared to 2014;
• Drunk at least once in the last 30 days: the data show that the phenomenon does not present particular differences in % of children) and increases with age;
• Gambling at least once in their life and in the last 12 months: the percentage of 15-year-olds who said they have bet or played money at least once is 42.2% (in their lifetime) and 31.4% (in the past twelve months). It is characterized as a purely male phenomenon: 62.5% of boys compared to 22.9% of girls have gambled at least once in their life. The results show a slight increase in the phenomenon compared to 2014;
• Problematic risk gambling in the last 12 months: 8.7 % of girls and 19.8% of boys aged 15 (total 16.0%) have been found to be at risk or problem gamblers (i.e. having at least two symptoms of gambling disorder such as stealing money to gamble). The results are on the rise compared to 2014;
• Nutritional status and eating habits: 16.6% of children aged 11-15 are overweight and 3.2% obese; excess weight decreases slightly with age and is greater in males. The results tend to be stable compared to the 2014 survey.
The habit of not eating breakfast is common in adolescents and the percentage of girls who do not eat breakfast is greater than that of males in all three ages considered. Compared to 2014, there was a slight deterioration. Only a third of boys consume fruit and vegetables at least once a day (contrary to recommendations) with higher values in girls. Compared to 2014, the consumption of vegetables increased, at least once a day, but fruit consumption decreased in all three age groups as well as for both genders. Bread, pasta and rice are the most consumed foods. Sugary/carbonated drinks are mostly drunk by 11-year-olds and males: this consumption is down compared to 2014 in all three age groups considered and in both genders;
• Motor activity: the majority of young people practice at least 60 minutes of physical activity, 2 to 4 days a week. 9.5% of 11-15 years old practice physical activity on a daily basis. Boys are on average more active than girls.
• Time spent in front of a screen: international guidelines recommend not to exceed 2 hours per day in activities dedicated to watching a screen (video games/computers/internet). From the HBSC data, it emerges that about a quarter of young people exceed these times, with a similar trend for both genders, with values increasing after 11 years (stable data compared to 2014).
From the ISTAT surveys of 2019, it also emerges that 88.2% of young people declare themselves satisfied with life as a whole (considering a degree of satisfaction from 6 to 10 on a scale of 1 to 10), a figure that is slightly increased compared to 2018, the year in which this percentage stood at 87.9% (ISTAT survey “Aspects of daily life”), despite the presence of harmful behaviour health. Some of the issues investigated by the National Institute of Statistics are the same subjected to HBSC surveillance. The data shown below, differentiated by thematic area, refer to the latest surveys conducted which date back to 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Smoking: in 2019, 17.7% of young people aged 14 to 34 who declare themselves smokers, down compared to the previous year (19.5%) (ISTAT survey “Lifestyle and health”). The highest percentage is found among 25-34 year old, followed by 20-24 year old and 18-19 year old. The lowest percentage, on the other hand, concerns young people in the 14-17-year-old group. Almost half of young people say they consume up to 5 cigarettes a day (45.3%) while 36.4% of young people consume 6 to 10 cigarettes a day. Compared to 2018, the number of young people who consume from 11 to 20 cigarettes per day decreases from 20.9% to 17.6% in 2019.
Table 1. Percentage of young people who declare themselves smokers
Alcohol: in 2019, 6.8% of young people aged 11 to 34 declared that they drink alcohol on a daily basis (ISTAT Multiscopo Survey on families “Aspects of daily life”). 57.4% declare a moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages, while 16.8% assume behaviours considered at risk with a high habitual consumption both outside meals (17.9%) and during meals (53.7%), especially in the 11-17 age group. Binge drinking is more common among young people aged 18-24 (16%) followed by young people between 25 and 34 (13.8%).
Obesity and physical activity: in the two-year period 2017-2018, it is estimated that there are about 2 million and 130 thousand children and adolescents in excess weight, equal to 25.2% of the population aged 3-17 (28.5% in 2010- 2011). Strong gender differences emerge with a wider prevalence among males (27.8% against 22.4%). In the period 2016-2017, 74.2% of children and adolescents consumed fruit and/or vegetables every day, but only 12.6% consumed 4 or more portions (11.4% in 2010-2011) (ISTAT - Dossier “Lifestyles of children and young people”). In 2019, 41.7% of young people, between 15 and 34 years of age, declare that they play sports continuously, an increase compared to the previous year (40.6%). More than half of the young people between 15 and 17 years of age practice sport continuously, a percentage that drops between 18 and 24 years of age. The least assiduous in sports are young people between 25 and 34 years old. The number of young people who do not practice sports or carry out any physical activity remains high (21.7%) and those who practice sport only occasionally (36.6%) (ISTAT Survey - Lifestyle and health).
Table 2. Percentage of young people who play sports continuously
Voluntary termination of pregnancy: young women who resorted to voluntary termination of pregnancy in 2018 (latest data available) are slightly down compared to 2017 for all age groups except for the 30-34 age group which shows a trend stable (ISTAT survey on voluntary interruptions of pregnancy).
Table 3. Voluntary abortion rate (compared to resident women aged 15-49) - values per 1000
Suicide: in 2017, the incidence of suicides among young people was 13.7% of the total causes of death, (ISTAT - Survey on the causes of death). Among young people in the 15-34 age group (out of the total population), the figure stood at 14.3% in 2017 (ISTAT), a slight decrease compared to the previous year in which it stood at 13.9% compared to an EU average of 27.6% (Eurostat). A focus on age groups shows that in 2017, the youth suicide rate was the lowest compared to the rest of the population.
Regarding mental health and the spread of HIV among young people, the Ministry of Health disclosed the following data:
• According to the latest Mental Health Report 2018), 133,143 young people between 18 and 34 (1.2%) suffered from mental disorders. 65,658 young people came into contact with the Mental Health Departments for the first time (0.6%). An examination of the data by diagnostic group shows a higher incidence of neurotic and somatoform syndromes (21.7 per 10,000 inhabitants), schizophrenia and other functional psychoses (18.8 per 10,000 inhabitants) and depression (16.3 per 10,000 inhabitants) among young people;
• 2017 saw a peak in HIV diagnoses among young people under the age of 25. The figure stood at 5.7% of total cases in 2018 (data from the Istituto Superiore di Sanità). The highest incidence was observed in the 25-29 and 30-39 age groups and is at least 3 times higher among males than females.
Table 4. Number of new diagnoses of HIV infection, by age group and gender on the total number of cases (2018)
Health: Italy has adopted the definition of health and well-being present in the Constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO) according to which: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not simply the absence of disease or of infirmity”. Health is influenced by a series of socio-economic factors upon which it is necessary to act through global strategies of promotion, prevention, treatment and recovery in a global government approach. In accordance with this premise, Italy has adopted policies that are increasingly oriented towards considering the complex of life, work and social and economic contexts in which each person lives, with specific reference to the different age groups, so much so that, in as part of the counseling centres, a “youth space” has been set up, dedicated to people aged between 14 and 20 (Cf. paragraph 7.7).
Prevention and screening: to ensure equity in access to early diagnosis, the National Health Service carries out three screening programs for the prevention of breast, cervical and colorectal cancers.
The PAP Test for cervical cancer screening is offered free of charge every three years to young women between the ages of 25 and 30.