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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

Menstrual health

Girls usually have their first period between the ages of 9 and 14. These will probably be irregular at first, but will settle into a pattern.  The menstrual cycle normally lasts about 28 days although there is a lot of variation.  The average length of bleeding is around 5 days.  Key issues in menstrual health include early or late menarche (start of periods), management of menstrual pain, and period poverty.  In the UK it has been estimated that nearly 80% of adolescent girls have experienced concerning menstrual symptoms (such as unusually heavy or irregular bleeding) but hadn’t consulted a health professional, and that over a quarter were too embarrassed to talk about it (Editorial, Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, 2018). 

Data on adolescent mental health are not widely available.  A recent report by Plan International brought together some key findings from a survey of 1000 representative 14-21 year olds in the UK.  Nearly half (49%) of girls had missed a day of school because of their period; 64% had missed PE or sport, and 68% felt less able to pay attention at school/college whilst menstruating.  There were a number of signs of period poverty in the survey; one in 10 respondents had been unable to afford sanitary products, and over a quarter (27%) had overused a sanitary product because they could not afford a fresh one (Plan International, 2018).

One menstrual health issue is the development of polycystic ovary syndrome, a common condition that affects how a woman’s ovaries work.  It’s difficult to know exactly how many women have PCOS, but it’s thought to be very common, affecting about 1 in every 10 women in the UK.  Signs and symptoms of PCOS usually become apparent in late teens or early 20s (NHS on-line, 2021).  Endometriosis is another issue that should be considered early in young women with pelvic pain as there is often a delay of between seven and 12 years from the onset of symptoms to receiving a definitive diagnosis (Royal College of Nursing, 2015). 

All data correct as of 1st November 2021