Young people's perspectives on health: empowerment, or risk?

Grace Spencer (School of Nursing, Midwifery and Physiotherapy, The University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK)

Health Education

ISSN: 0965-4283

Publication date: 15 February 2013



Research to date has identified young people's perspectives on a number of health‐related topics such as smoking, alcohol, sexual health, physical activity and healthy eating. Whilst this body of research draws important attention towards young people's views on topical health concerns, it arguably remains located within a pre‐defined agenda; thereby marginalising young people's own, and potentially different, frames of reference when discussing health. In light of this omission, the aim of this paper is to examine young people's own understandings of health in line with their own frames of reference.


Data were collected from 55 young people aged 15‐16 years through group discussions, individual interviews and observational data in a school and surrounding community settings. Key themes were analysed for their implications for “emic” conceptualisations of health. Young people's perspectives were further compared with accounts given by professionals.


Two key themes emerged from young people's accounts: being happy and having fun. Young people's meanings of being happy highlighted the relational components of developing a positive self‐belief, pointing to a number of socially located prerequisites for promoting their health. Discussions of having fun were understood as potentially liberating, resistive and subversive, but which exist in some tension with adults’ discourses of risk and risk‐taking.


Examining young people's accounts points to the possibility of a more positive discourse on health – opening up new opportunities and insights for health promotion informed by concepts of empowerment.



Spencer, G. (2013), "Young people's perspectives on health: empowerment, or risk?", Health Education, Vol. 113 No. 2, pp. 115-131.

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