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Growing Up Unequal

HBSC Report launch

Dr Gauden Galea – Director of the Division of Noncommunicable Diseases and Promoting Health through the Life-course, WHO Regional Office for Europe (right) and Dr Jo Inchley – HBSC International Coordinator, University of St Andrews (left)      

15.03.2016 – The WHO report ‘Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study was launched on Tuesday 15 March in Brussels

Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC), a WHO collaborative cross-national study, has provided information about the health, well-being, social environment and health behaviour of 11, 13 and 15-year-old boys and girls for over 30 years. The latest international report from the study, “Growing up unequal: gender and socioeconomic differences in young people’s health and well-being,” presents findings from the 2013/2014 survey of 42 countries in Europe and North America. 

The survey report presents a number of positive findings in relation to children and adolescents’ health and well-being.

  • Life satisfaction is generally high. Eighty per cent of 11–15-year-olds indicate high life satisfaction.
  • Girls’ and boys’ tobacco and alcohol use has reduced markedly in recent years.
  • Levels of substance use and fighting have reduced substantially for boys and girls in many countries. 


The report nevertheless demonstrates ongoing challenges.

  • Girls have poorer mental health. By age 15, 20% of girls perceive their health as fair or poor and 50% experience health complaints more than once a week.
  • Overweight and obesity is higher among boys, but girls are more likely to think they are too fat. The proportion of girls who think they are too fat increases from 26% at age 11 to 43% at 15. One quarter of 15-year-old girls are on a diet or doing something else to lose weight.
  • Levels of physical activity remain very low. Only 25% of 11-year-olds and 16% of those aged 15 meet current guidelines for physical activity. Girls are less likely to achieve the recommended levels

The launch was overseen by Dr Gauden Galea – Director of the Division of Noncommunicable Diseases and Promoting Health through the Life-course, WHO Regional Office for Europe. Much of WHO’s European strategy for improving child and adolescent health is based on data drawn from successive HBSC studies. The strategy sets out a vision, guiding principles and priorities for countries working across sectors to protect and promote the health and well-being of children and adolescents throughout the WHO European Region.

The HBSC study has influenced policy and legislation in numerous European countries in the 33 years since its first report was published. For example, after its 2003 report identified a dramatic spike in alcohol consumption among young Germans, the Government of Germany increased tax on “alcopops” and improved labelling; this has led to a significant decline in such consumption.

Dr Galea asserted that “the adults of 2030 are the adolescents of today.  There is a need for action, such as increasing prices of tobacco, ban advertising of alcohol and tobacco products. The report gives us some good news but we need to see the wake-up call on mental health and dangerous behaviour such as declining use of condoms.” As part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 3 (Good health and well-being) aims to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, said “young people are as rich and diverse as their adult counterparts; they require a range of interventions that reflect their diversity and take fully into account their age and gender, and their social and cultural environments. In the report, young people tell it like it is and highlight what is important to them – we must act on this trust.”


UNRICs Related Links

· World Health Organization

· Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) report 

· Sustainable Development Goals

Photo: UNRIC

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