Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Live fast, die young?

Are teenagers boozing, snacking, smoking and shagging themselves to death?

The party lifestyles of modern teenagers could have damaging consequences for them in later life, according to the British Medical Association. One-in-five 15-year-olds are obese, one-in-four are regular smokers, teenage drinking is on the increase and as many as 60 per cent of 16-24 year-olds admit to not using condoms. Dr Peter Maguire, deputy chairman of the BMA's Board of Science, told the BBC, 'The UK is facing a crisis in adolescent health. Problems such as obesity, addictions, poor mental and sexual health, all respond best to early intervention, but are not being effectively addressed. If we do not treat these problems when people are young they will carry poor health into adulthood.'

However, people are less likely to die young than in the past. In 1900, death rates per thousand for 15-19 year-olds were about 0.3 per cent. By the early sixties, these rates had fallen to 0.04 per cent for women and 0.1 per cent for men. By 1995, the equivalent figures were 0.03 per cent and 0.06 per cent. In other words, over the course of the last century, death rates fell to one-tenth of their 1900 levels for women, and one-sixth for men.

Teenagers have always pushed the limits of what they can and should do. It's a natural and healthy part of the growing-up process to try to shake off the shackles of childhood and assert independence. In the process, they are likely at various times to over-indulge in one way or another, but by doing so learn their limits. They are more likely to harm themselves from falling over while inebriated than from some terrible long-term health risk. The biggest problem is that young people seem only too happy to remain molly-coddled for as long as possible.

As for health services - there have never been more of them. It is impossible to spend any time in a city centre bar or a students union without being confronted by a barrage of advice about how you should not smoke, limit your drinking and only have sex with a condom. Which begs the question about what additional interventions are possible when this health blitz has proved so spectacularly unsuccessful. Perhaps the guardians of the public health should just take a chill pill.

Teen lifestyle 'health timebomb', BBC News, 8 December 2003

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