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Public health outcomes

In this section we present data for some of the public health outcomes that are most relevant to young people 10-24, particularly those relating to health behaviours.  Separate sections present data on life expectancy, mental health and sexual health.

Only 1 in 8 young people in the UK eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day

Promoting healthy behaviours is very important in adolescence and early adulthood. This is a time when life-long health behaviours are set in place. Smoking, drinking, obesity and other public health issues at this age can directly affect health outcomes. In the long-term these may include cancer, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. As a result prevention and early intervention are not just relevant for young children; they are equally possible and important in adolescence (Hagell and Rigby, 2015). It is also important to note that health behaviours are shaped by wider determinants. This is particularly clear, for example, for obesity.


Physical activity  

Young people’s physical activity levels are critical to their overall health (Public Health England, 2018a; Public Health England 2021). Current UK guidelines for children and young people recommend at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day, including activity to strengthen muscles and bones (Chief Medical Officer, 2019).

Data from the Active Lives Survey show activity rates for primary and secondary school aged children across the academic year 2019/2020, which included the Covid-19 pandemic. In this most recent survey the rates of exercise at different ages during secondary school has levelled out, but on average girls still do less than boys (Chart 2.1). Less than half of female 10-16 year olds achieve the recommended levels of an hour a day. Sport England data (not shown) also demonstrate that children up to age 16 from the least affluent families are less active than those from the most affluent families (Sport England, 2021).

Chart 2.1: On average just under half of 10-16 year olds achieve recommended daily physical activity levels

Children and young people were generally successful in adapting their habits to include new forms of exercise during the pandemic. However the types of activity they were able to do changed drastically.  Organised sport was down and walking, cycling and fitness exercises were up (Sport England, 2021).

For secondary school children (11-16), the main mode of transport to school is walking (39%) followed by travel by car/van (26%) and local bus (23%).

The walking that young people undertake is usually generated by the journey to school or college. Over the last decade the Department of Transport’s National Travel Survey has consistently shown that for secondary school children (11-16), the main mode of transport to school is walking (39%) followed by travel by car/van (26%) and local bus (23%) (Department of Transport, 2020).

All data correct as of 1st November 2021