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On the State of Public Health: Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer 2007

The Telegraph report on Sir Liam Donaldson’s annual report which includes a recommendation to reduce the amount of alcohol young drivers are allowed to have in their blood to zero.

That’s not the end of his recommendations as the paper points out:

Other recommendations relating to teenagers included a national summit to take stock of health programmes and services for young people, more involvement of teenagers in the design of healthcare aimed at them and a young person’s panel to advise on national campaigns to address risk taking.Sir Liam said taking risks as a teenager is a rite of passage into adulthood but a problem arises then the habits formed then are continued long-term.

Sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies, poor diet and obesity, physical inactivity, tobacco, drugs and alcohol, injuries and violence are a major problem for teenagers, the report said.

Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer 2007

On the State of Public Health: Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer 2007

You can read the report itself here.  The chapter on teenage health says:

Adolescence is a time of life when peer pressure is a key element of the forces that shape behaviour and attitudes. On top of this, family, the formal education process and the less tangible forces of media, marketing and advertising all influence the young person. Self-expression, individualism, feeling and appearing grown-up as well as impressing peers also strongly influence behaviour.

Sir Liam indentifies 6 risks that are particularly prevalent amongst young people, included in which are tobacco, drugs and alcohol.

On tobacco he points out:

Approximately 290,000 11 to 15-yearolds in England smoke cigarettes regularly (9% of this age group). The percentage has not fallen since 2004 and girls are more likely to smoke than boys. Someone who starts to smoke aged 15 years is three times more likely to die of smoking-related cancer than someone who has smoked from their mid-20s.

In relation to alcohol he says:

Approximately 610,000 11 to 15-yearolds in England are estimated to have been drunk in the previous four weeks, girls more frequently than boys. The proportion of 11 to 15-year-olds who drink has decreased, but those that do drink consume more, more frequently and favour higher strength alcoholic drinks.

And on illegal drugs reminds us:

Roughly 770,000 11 to 15-year-olds have tried drugs, and 170,000 have taken Class A drugs. The percentage who have ever taken any drugs has decreased slightly in the last 10 years, but the percentage taking Class A drugs has stayed constant. Substance misuse in young people has been linked to suicide, depression, conduct disorders, educational problems and long-term mental health effects. There is also evidence that cannabis use is linked to serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia.

I think it’s worth quoting quite a lot of what Sir Liam says in his conclusion:

In relation to many risk factors, the majority of teenagers do not experiment with them or they do so for a brief period only. However, the numbers who do take risks amount to hundreds of thousands of young people every year.

There are immediate consequences of risk taking in the teenage years. For example, the current pattern of teenage drinking creates antisocial behaviour, involvement in crime, injuries from accidents and violence as well as a greater likelihood of having unprotected sex…

Whilst young people want more information to guide them about their health, providing information alone will not make major inroads into the problems described in this chapter. Young people want to be listened to in the individual consultation and to have the opportunity to be involved in the design of services…

There is no simple solution to the risks posed by adverse behaviours and experiences in the teenage years. However, major shifts in behaviour in the fields of fashion, technology use and entertainment show that change can be achieved. Why not the same for health? Efforts need to be oriented to implementing existing strategies and plans but also to seeking new and imaginative ways of getting the health messages across in a way that appeals to youthful minds and outlooks.

Whatever the solution is, it must be identified and developed in partnership with young people themselves. The active participation of young people in making decisions about their health, both at an individual level and at the strategic level of healthcare provision, is key. The free expression of views, given due weight according to the age and maturity of the child, is not only a human right, it is also known to improve health.

He makes a number of recommendations, including:

  • A national summit should be held to take stock of the state of health promotion and healthcare services for teenagers. An action plan should come out of it.
  • A young people’s panel should be established to advise on national campaigns addressing risk-taking in the teenage years.
  • The Association of Public Health Observatories should run a free online database on adolescent health, and produce an annual surveillance report, including positive indicators of health.
  • The legal blood alcohol limit for drivers aged between 17 and 20 years should be reduced to zero.
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