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Eva Whitaker and Lucy Ross were research interns at AYPH in 2021, helping to collate data for the next edition of ‘Key Data on Young People’.  In this blog they share their reaction to some of the data they uncovered, and their thoughts on surprising trends in youth health.

Whilst working on the Key Data on Young People (KDYP) 2021 publication, there have been some insights in the data that surprised us, and that we felt needed highlighting.

Young people and asthma

Young people aged 16-20 are the group most likely to be diagnosed with asthmaFirst, when comparing asthma mortality statistics, we were shocked to find that the UK has notably higher rates of death resulting from asthma among 10-24-years-olds compared with any other European OECD country.  Whilst the finding is not new in the field of data on young people’s health (Shah et al., 2019), it came as a surprise to us as young people. The overwhelming narrative is that young people in the UK are, in general, fit and healthy. Upon further research, we discovered that many asthma deaths are preventable and result from a lack of basic care and public perceptions of the danger of asthma (Asthma UK, 2019).

We feel that greater attention should be drawn to the high proportions of young people suffering from health problems in the UK, in order to improve health outcomes for the age group (go to Key Data Physical Health section for more information).


Young people and abortion statistics

In England, Wales and Scotland the under 18 conception rate has continued to fall since the 1990sSimilarly, due to a common narrative about young people in the UK, we were surprised by the age breakdown of abortion statistics across England, Wales and Scotland.  As young people, we have often felt there is emphasis placed on abortion rates amongst adolescents. However, across England, Wales and Scotland, the highest rates of registered abortions are found for those aged 20-24 (Department of Health and Social Care, 2021; Public Health Scotland, 2021). We were particularly surprised to find that the most recent data for England and Wales show abortion rates to be more than double for 25-29-year-olds (26.3 per 1,000 women), compared to 15-19-year-olds (12.9 per 1,000 women). Furthermore, whilst rates of abortion have been steadily decreasing across the past ten years for under 18-year-olds, we found it to be of particular interest that abortion rates are consistently increasing for those over 35 (Department of Health and Social Care, 2021).

We believe that the data are reflective of social changes associated with reduced underaged conceptions, and an increase in family planning for those in their 20s. (Go to Key Data Sexual Health section for more information)


Young people and alcohol

We were also surprised to see data on a general downward trend in alcohol consumption in young people. This trend can be observed in both the 11-15 and 16-24 age.  Between 2001 and 2018, the proportions of young people drinking in the last week more than halved for every year group from 11 to 15.  However, in more recent years the rates have plateaued (NHS Digital, 2019). Similarly, the rate of 16-24-year-olds drinking more than 14 units of alcohol per week has reduced by around a third between 2011 and 2019, with 19% of men and 11% of women in the age group exceeding the recommended limit in 2019 (NHS Digital, 2020).

The percentage of 11-15 year olds reporting drinking alcohol fell to 2014 but recent trends are less clear


Interestingly, we suspected the reduction could link to an increase in illegal drug use, however the data also show fewer young people are taking drugs now compared to previous years in all age brackets (NHS Digital, 2019; Office for National Statistics, 2020).  (Go to Key Data Public Health Outcomes for more information).


Young people and the pandemic

Due to the majority of students learning from home during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, we were shocked to find that just under 15% of 11-16-year-olds and 30% of 17-22-year-olds did not have a quiet work or study space in their home. Whilst Covid-19 restrictions have almost come to an end at the time of writing, the long-term implications beyond the pandemic, such as completing homework and studying for exams at home, is something we think should be explored more. With this being said, 2021 saw record high GCSE and A-level results in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (BBC, 2021a; BBC, 2021b). We were happy to see that young people were rewarded with worthy results after learning in such a disrupted work environment. (see Key Data Education and Employment for more information).

As young people ourselves, we were often surprised that the data were different to our perceptions of certain issues and topics. Hence, we are excited to share KDYP 2021 and help provide a narrative of young people that is based on the most recent data. You can find the full publication of Key Data on Young People 2021 here and we are interested to know which data surprise you.



BBC (2021a). GCSE results 2021: Record passes and top grades. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-58174253

BBC (2021b). A-levels 2021: What you need to know about this year’s results https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-58026976

Asthma UK (2019). Asthma death toll in England and Wales is the highest this decade. https://www.asthma.org.uk/about/media/news/press-release-asthma-death-toll-in-england-and-wales-is-the-highest-this-decade/

Department of Health and Social Care (2021). Abortion statistics in England and Wales. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/abortion-statistics-for-england-and-wales-2020

NHS Digital (2019). Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England 2018. https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/smoking-drinking-and-drug-use-among-young-people-in-england/2018

NHS Digital (2020). Health Survey for England 2019. https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/health-survey-for-england/2019

Office for National Statistics (2020). Drug misuse in England and Wales: year ending March 2020. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/articles/drugmisuseinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2020

Public Health Scotland (2021). Termination of pregnancy statistics: Year ending December 2020. https://publichealthscotland.scot/publications/termination-of-pregnancy-statistics/termination-of-pregnancy-statistics-year-ending-december-2020/

Shah, R., Hagell, A. and Cheung, R. (2019). International comparisons of health and wellbeing in adolescence and early adulthood. https://www.nuffieldtrust.org.uk/files/2019-02/1550657729_nt-ayph-adolescent-health-report-web.pdf