Young People With Long-term Conditions Being 'Let Down' 

Nicky Broyd

February 20, 2019

New research, comparing the UK with 18 other high-income countries, has found young people in this country are being let down when it comes to long-term illness.

The report, by paediatricians and researchers at the Nuffield Trust think tank and the Association for Young People’s Health (AYPH), found young people were more likely to die from asthma in the UK than in any other European country in the comparator group. The UK also had the highest obesity rates for 15 to 19-year-olds in the European nations.

In a press statement the Chief Executive of the Nuffield Trust, Nigel Edwards, said: "More than ever, young people are holding up their side of the bargain, with more of them choosing to smoke and drink less, yet our health system seems to be getting something badly wrong."

Analysis  

The study compares the UK to: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the US.

Researchers analysed the health and wellbeing of young people, aged 10-24, between the mid-1990s and the last year for which data was comparable.

They looked at 17 measures: obesity, long-standing illness, exercise, deprivation, adolescent birth rate, asthma death rate, the burden of diseases on quality of life, diabetes, numbers of young people not in education or employment, cancer mortality, smoking, alcohol consumption, cannabis, suicide, overall mortality, transport injury death and impact of transport injury on quality of life.

Key Findings  

Asthma

When it comes to asthma mortality the study found the UK had the fourth highest rate overall behind the US, Australia, and New Zealand, and in 2016 young people were more likely to die from asthma in the UK than in any other European country in the comparator group.

The asthma mortality rate in the UK was approximately twice as high as that of the next worst country in Europe.

In 2018 a survey by Asthma UK found that millennials, those aged 18-29, were getting the worst asthma care in the UK.

Obesity

As well as having the highest rates of obesity in 15 to 19-year-olds compared to the 14 European countries, the study also found the UK had one of the greatest differences in obesity levels between young people living in the poorest areas of the country and the richest. However, the authors note there were only a few countries with reliable-enough data to be included in this comparison.

For all years reviewed, the UK’s obesity prevalence was closer to the worst-performing country, the US, than the best performing, Japan.

The Government has published measures to tackle obesity in its Childhood Obesity Plan for England and has already introduced a tax on high-sugar soft drinks.

Diabetes

The study authors say their findings suggest "that improved age-appropriate education and interventions are required to promote better diabetes control in young people aged 10–24 in the UK".

The National Paediatric Diabetes Audit for 2016–17 found that only 43.5% of 12-year-olds with type-1 diabetes received all seven key diabetes health care checks.

Long-term Health Conditions

The report estimated nearly 1 in 5 young people in the UK were living with a long-term health condition, and the UK was one of the worst countries for young people to experience years lost to ill health and the burden of disease.

Nigel Edwards said: "Young people in the UK are entering adulthood with more long-term health conditions and as a result a poorer quality of life, storing up problems further down the line."

Emma Rigby, AYPH chief executive said: "The crucial thing to note here is how important long-term health conditions are in the 10-24 age group. We need more understanding of young people’s health needs, improved support for young people to understand and manage their own health, and we need to provide more youth friendly health services."

Other Findings

When it came to cancer mortality the authors say 'meaningful comparison' was challenging but overall, relative to the comparator countries, the UK ranked among the middle of the pack across genders and age groups.

It was also in the middle of the group of countries when it came to smoking, alcohol consumption and cannabis use.

The UK had some of the lowest rates of road traffic injury deaths.

Wake-up Call

In reaction to the study the President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Professor Russell Viner, said in a press statement: "This report highlights yet again how far the UK is lagging behind other countries on a range of health measures, and provides further evidence of the urgent need to prioritise and invest in young people’s health.

"It is unacceptable that teenagers in the UK are more likely to be obese, die from asthma, and live with challenging long-term conditions than their peers living elsewhere, and immediate steps need to be taken to address this.

"The emphasis on children and young people's health within the NHS Long Term Plan provides a welcome platform from which to make significant inroads, but unless the government reverses cuts to public health budgets and addresses ongoing socio-economic inequalities, the UK has little chance of catching up with its European neighbours any time soon."

Baroness Doreen Massey of Darwen, patron of the AYPH and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Young People’s Health said: "This comprehensive report is a wake-up call to improve health services for our young people and is a timely inspiration in the wake of the new NHS Long Term Plan. Investment in young people aged 10 to 24 is urgently needed in order to have healthy adults in the future."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "We have world-leading plans in place to safeguard child health by combatting obesity, improving mental health and vaccinating against some of the world's deadliest diseases.

"Prevention is at the heart of the NHS Long Term Plan, and as part of this, we are increasing funding by an average 3.4% per year - meaning that by 2023/24 it will receive £20.5 billion a year more than it currently does."

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