7.1 General context
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Most adolescents in Sweden judge their health as being good. In general, young people in Sweden have healthy lifestyle habits, including regular physical and outdoor activities. A decreasing number of adolescents report of high consumption of alcohol or of being regular smokers.
On the negative side, an increasing share of young people report of having recurring mental and somatic problems, such as anxiety, feeling low, sleep disorders and abdominal pain or headache.
Most health problems are more common among children and adolescents living in less favourable social circumstances, compared to children and adolescents in socially advantaged groups. According to a systematic review of social health inequalities in Swedish children and adolescents (Folkhälsomyndigheten 2011), physical health problems were 30% more common, mental health problems and risk factors for ill-health 80% more common, and intentional injuries 120% more common among those young people who were living in less favourable social circumstances.
Other groups who face high risks of having health-related problems are persons with disabilities, LGBT-persons, persons with a national minority background and immigrants, according to the public health report 2017 from the Public Health Agency of Sweden.
Alcohol consumption among young people in Sweden has declined continuously during the last decade. Between 2006 and 2016, the share of high consumers of alcohol (that on average drink at least 14 standard glasses (boys) and 9 standard glasses (girls) of alcoholic beverages per week) has declined:
- from 11 to 3% among students at last year in compulsory school
- from 22 to 8% among students at school year 2 of upper secondary school.
Substance abuse among young people in Sweden shows a less positive trend. Between 2007 and 2016, the share that testifies of having used narcotics over the past 12 months (narcotics refers to, for example, hash, marijuana, amphetamine, cocaine, heroin) has slightly increased from 11 to 13% among students at school year 2 of upper secondary school, while the share among students at last year in compulsory school has stayed at 4%.
Tobacco consumption among young people in Sweden has declined somewhat during the last five years. Between 2012 and 2016, the share of smokers (that testify that they have smoked over the past 12 months and still smoke) has declined:
- from 16 to 10% among students at last year in compulsory school
- from 30 to 24% among students at school year 2 of upper secondary school.
Physical activity level among young people has remained unchanged the last ten years. About 70% in the 16–29 age group report of being physically active for at least 30 minutes a day. Sedentary lifestyle, which means spending less than two hours of physical activity a week – walking, cycling or doing another exercise – also shows a stable trend, the level has been around 10% the last five years.
Approximately one third of the population in Sweden is active in terms of outdoor recreation, i.e. has been outdoors in the nature at least once per week over the past year. Compared to other age groups, the level of outdoor activities is low among young people in the 16–24 age group; about 18% have been active in outdoor recreational activities during the last 12 months (at least 20 times). The average for the population between 16 and 84 years of age is 31%.
Overweight and obesity
The prevalence of overweight and obesity is increasing among young people. In 2016, 29% among 16 to 29 year-olds reported of having a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher, compared to 22% in 2006.
Mental health problems have shown an increasing trend among young people in Sweden since mid-1980s. Both register-based indicators on suicide attempts and self-reported well-being indicators confirm the trend. Among 16 to 29 year-olds, 43% witness of having anxiety (36% in total population 16–84 years). The share that reports of very good wellbeing is 29% in the 16 to 29 age group, compared to 36% in total population.
Hospital care due to a suicide attempt is more common among young people compared to those that are elder. In 2015, the share was 156 per 100 000 young people between 13 and 24 years of age, and 85 per 100 000 adults between 30 and 64 years of age.
Sweden's suicide rate is roughly at the same level as the EU average. Over the past 15 years, the suicide rate in Sweden has reduced by around 20%. This positive trend in Sweden does not apply to children and young adults in the 15–24 age group, where the suicide rate has remained at the same level. The reported share in 2015 was 10.9 per 100 000 young people between 13 and 24 years of age.
Sexual and reproductive health
Of the sexually transmitted diseases, chlamydia infection is the most common and the chlamydia incidence is at a high level compared to other STIs. In the 16–24 age group, the share of reported chlamydia infections in 2014 was 2.1%. The level has been relatively stable since 2010.
Abortions among teenagers have decreased the last ten years. In 2018, the share was 11 per 1 000 girls up 19 years of age, compared to 23 per 1 000 girls in 2009.
National surveys assessing the state of health of young people
There are a number of national surveys assessing the health conditions of young people.
The Public Health Agency of Sweden (Folkhälsomyndigheten) is responsible for health surveys targeting both the population in general and for specific youth health surveys. The National Public Health Survey covers health, lifestyle and living conditions. The study has been conducted annually since 2004 and comprises a random sample of 20 000 individuals between 16 and 84 years of age.
The aim is to show the population's state of health and to monitor changes in health over time as a part of a follow-up of public health policy. The study is an ongoing collaborative project between the Public Health Agency of Sweden and the Swedish regions and county councils
The Public Health Agency is also responsible for the survey Health Behavior in School-aged Children (Skolbarns hälsovanor i Sverige), which is an international study coordinated by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The study is carried out every four years and presents data from 11-, 13- and 15-year-olds.
The study is based on survey questions about health, lifestyle and environment at school and at home. The results are used to monitor children's and young people's health over time and to identify areas that require actions to promote children's and young people's health.
Statistics Sweden (Statistiska centralbyrån SCB) conducts regular surveys on living conditions. Since 1975, Statistics Sweden has conducted the annual survey ULF/SILC covering work environment, housing conditions, income, leisure time, health, civic activities, social relationships, employment, security and education. Since 2001, Statistics Sweden has, within the framework of ULF/SILC, conducted a specific survey targeting children between 12 and 18 years of age, the Living Conditions Survey of Children.
The Swedish Council for Information on Alcohol and Other Drugs (Centralförbundet för alkohol- och narkotikaupplysning, CAN) is a civil society organisation that conducts an annual nation-wide survey on alcohol and other drugs among students in year nine of compulsory school and in second year at upper secondary school. The results from the survey are published in Skolelevers drogvanor (Alcohol and drug use among students).
The concept of health in Sweden is in line with the one of WHOs. It includes overall health, well-being and quality of life. Health is seen as a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity.
Therefore, public health reporting in Sweden provides a broad description of the state of public health. It contains analyses of both the prevalence of diseases and hospital care and of public health surveys covering information on self-reported health, lifestyles and living conditions, which largely affect the development of public health.