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EACEA National Policies Platform


7. Health and Well-Being

7.1 General context

Last update: 22 January 2021

LAST MODIFIED ON: 11/09/2020 - 13:14

On this page
  1. Main trends in the health conditions of young people
  2. Main concepts

Main trends in the health conditions of young people

The Young Persons Behaviour and Attitudes Survey (YPBAS) is a school-based survey conducted every three years among 11-16 year-olds. It is an interdepartmental survey that covers a range of topics relevant to young people, including smoking, drinking, physical activity, sexual health, and emotional well-being. The 2019 survey results have not been published at the time of writing, July 2020.

The results from the latest survey (2016) showed:

  • 84 per cent of young people reported good or very good health, with no difference found between boys (83 per cent) and girls (84 per cent). However older children tended to rate their health less positively. One in four young people reported having a long-standing illness/condition.
  • Since 2000, there has been a decline in the proportion of young people reporting that they smoke or have ever smoked.
  • Young people in the most deprived areas were more likely to report ever having smoked. In 2016, 4 percent of young people were current smokers with no significant difference between boys (4 per cent) and girls (5 per cent). Comparing 2016 with the previous findings in 2013, whilst the rate overall and the rate for girls has remained level, the rate for boys has fallen from 6 per cent to 4 per cent.
  • Since 2000, there has been a decline in both the proportion of young people who drink alcohol, or have ever drunk alcohol and in the proportion of those who drink that report having been drunk.
  • The proportion of young people reporting ever having taken drugs has fallen from 23 per cent in 2003 to 4 per cent in 2016.
  • There has been a decline in the proportion of young people reporting having had sexual intercourse, from 12 per cent in 2000 to 4 per cent in 2016. Boys (5 per cent) were more likely to report having had sexual intercourse than girls (3 per cent).

The survey also showed that 1 in 8 young people reported doing the recommended 60 minutes of moderate physical activity during every day of the last week; boys (17 per cent) were twice as likely as girls (8 per cent) to report this.

In 2015, Sport Northern Ireland included two modules in the Young Life and Times (YLT) and Kids’ Life and Times (KLT) surveys that asked children (P7 aged children) and young people (aged 16 years) about their experiences of and participation in sport and physical activities.  In more recent editions of the two surveys, health and wellbeing questions have not been asked.

The headline findings from the Young People and Sport research from Sport Northern Ireland are highlighted below:

  • Fewer than one in ten (9 per cent) YLT respondents reached the physical activity target, which is at least a total of 60 minutes of sports or physical activity every day. Male 16-year olds were much more likely to reach this target than female 16-year olds (13 per cent and 5 per cent). Among KLT respondents, boys (37 per cent) were also much more likely to reach this target than girls (27 per cent).
  • Both KLT and YLT respondents were asked to name the three main sports they played in a normal week.  The types of sport mentioned covered an extensive range of activities, with football, swimming and Gaelic sports being the three top activities for KLT respondents, whilst walking, running and football were just ahead of going to the gym and cycling for 16-year-olds. It is noticeable that four out of five top activities for 16-year-olds were physical activities that can be undertaken individually at a time that suits people’s personal circumstances. This was not the case for KLT respondents. Perhaps this is evidence for an increasing trend towards the individualisation of sport and physical activity.
  • The single most important factor why 16-year-olds were not more involved in sports and physical activity was a lack  of time (YLT, 69 per cent).  This was more than twice the proportion of KLT respondents (25 per cent).

There is no significant trend shown in the figures for suicides in either the 15-19 or the 20-24 age group, although the rate for men has been consistently much higher than for women. In July 2020, NISRA released 2018 suicide statistics for Northern Ireland - the suicide rate was 18.6 per 100,000, the highest in the UK. (Scotland had 16.1 deaths per 100,000 persons, Wales with a rate of 12.8 per 100,000, and England the lowest with 10.3 deaths per 100,000) 

The Children’s Sport Participation and Physical Activity Study 2017-18   

CSPPA provides a detailed picture of children and young peoples' (10-18 years) participation in sport and physical activity in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This report found that: 

  • 13% of Northern Irish children and youth met the recommended physical activity guidelines (20% primary school pupils, 11% post primary school pupils) of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per day.  
  • Fewer girls met the physical activity guidelines, compared to boys (10% vs. 16%). This gender difference was evident in both primary school (19% vs. 21%) and post primary school (7% vs. 14%) levels. 
  • Post-primary school girls had the lowest prevalence of meeting the physical activity guidelines, with only 7% obtaining ≥60 minutes of MVPA.  
  • Less affluent pupils were less likely to achieve the recommended level of physical activity levels than pupils from more affluent backgrounds. 
  • 65% of primary school pupils reported participating in community sport at least once a week, with 49% of post-primary school pupils reporting participation at least once a week. 
  • 14% of primary and 47% post-primary school pupils reported never participating in school sport.

You can read more about these trends here.

Main concepts

The Northern Ireland Executive’s 2014 strategic framework for public health, Making Life Better, highlights the distinctive context of health and wellbeing policy in Northern Ireland (p. 145):

It is important to acknowledge that a particular challenge for the health and wellbeing of Northern Ireland society is the need to deal with the consequences of the past. A history of sectarianism, intolerance and violence has left a legacy of hurt and division, and physical and mental scars that must be addressed in building a better and healthier future.