Young People in 1998

Health Education

ISSN: 0965-4283

Article publication date: 1 April 2000




Balding, J. (2000), "Young People in 1998", Health Education, Vol. 100 No. 2, pp. 88-89.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The results of the health‐related behaviour of children and young people questionnaire are published regularly, and have become an invaluable source of data for all involved in the education and health of young people. This most recent volume unpacks the data from a sample of over 18,000 pupils in secondary schools, who filled in the voluminous and very searching questionnaire given to them by their schools, provided and analysed by the team at Exeter University. As usual, a massive range of physical, mental and social health issues and behaviours are covered: 38 are listed in the front, running alphabetically from “accidents” to “worries”, taking in on the way such diverse topics as bullying, doctor visits, hygiene, personal safety and self‐esteem.

This edition is particularly interesting because it provides a longitudinal perspective, going back, in the case of some issues, to 1983, on how the health‐related behaviour of young people has changed. It also gives a useful account of the origins, methods and analysis of the survey itself. In a lively introduction, Professor Ted Wragg identifies some of the more striking trends, noting that girls’ health has changed most profoundly, with girls now more likely to smoke than boys, while their patterns of drug and alcohol use are now approaching those of their traditionally more reckless male classmates. The news is not all bad however, and most young people appear to lead a surprisingly healthy and cautious lifestyle, with the use of illegal drugs appearing to actually be reducing. A side issue of some interest to health educators is tracing, through the shifting nature of the questions, how the agenda of interest for health education has itself changed: in 1983 the emphasis was very much on the physical (teeth, illness) and on the health service (visits to the doctor): by the mid‐1990s there was far more concern with the emotional, the social and the sexual side of health, while most recently we now have questions about Internet use.

As usual, the book is exceptionally well laid out and “reader friendly”, tackling one issue per page with a large clear table and accompanying notes on the most interesting trends discernible. The survey does have its limitations. For example, as the authors say, it can only claim to be an “accidental” sample, relying as it does on the invitation of schools for its administration, although such a large sample has to be seen as significant and approaching reliability. It is reasonable to suppose that the picture is at least slightly biased and errs towards the opinions of the more able, well‐motivated and literate. More switched‐on schools are more likely to request the use of the survey in the first place, more able pupils are more likely to be able to complete what is now a formidable paper exercise, and of course those who exclude themselves or are excluded from school do not appear at all. But that said, it is a vital resource, painstakingly created and highly useful for planning at school, local, regional or national level.

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