Happiness is a wallow in some data and readers, I'm feeling pretty blissful right now, thanks to the publication of a World Health Organisation report yesterday looking at the health and well-being of young people across Europe, including Scotland.
Headlines proclaimed that young Scots are among the happiest in Europe. They are brushing their teeth more regularly, consuming fewer fizzy drinks, doing well at school smoking and taking drugs less.
Heck, some of them even claim to talk to their parents. It paints a rosy picture, but only if you stick to the headlines.
Which is the point of data: it can tell you what you want to know but only if you go looking for it. Thus, most Scottish young people are generally satisfied with their lot but funnily enough, those young people growing up in poverty – euphemistically termed as having low family affluence – are less happy, about 10 – 15% less satisfied with their lot.
And while we're going in the right direction on some health issues, sadly, we're still near the top of the European league on drinking regularly, under-age sexual activity and sex without protection.
Interestingly, the findings suggest that tackling behaviours through strong public policy and investment of resources pays dividends. Smoking has reduced since the introduction of the ban in public places and other measures to limit access and oral health has improved since it became a key health target involving lots of promotional work on teeth brushing.
Hopefully, the introduction of minimum pricing – as long as it is accompanied by other measures which encourage adults and young people to change their drinking habits – will have a similar impact.
As well as the gap between well-off and poor, the report points up two other demographic trends of interest to policy makers and those who design and deliver public services.
First, something happens between the ages of 11 and 15. At the younger end, dabbling in risky behaviours that compromise well-being is rare but a few years later, it's commonplace. Anyone who has ever raised a teenager will know this only too well.
Raging hormones, changes in brain synapses, the growth of external influences and the diminution of parental ones all combine to encourage our young people to indulge in activities that we'd really rather they didn't.
In this, there is some comfort in realising that young Scots are little different from their peers in other countries but it does suggest that we need to do more to support parenting throughout adolescence and intervene at the key transition point between primary and secondary schools to safely guide our young people into adulthood.
Leaving them to get on with it and find their own way is clearly not good enough. Too many currently fall onto rocky ground during these crucial years and for some, getting back on the path that leads to decent life chances becomes too difficult.
Often, their ability to do so is compromised by the poor start they've had in life in their earliest years or more generally, by the inequalities they have faced throughout childhood.
The other key trend is the gender difference. By mid-teens, many young women are experiencing less life satisfaction, are dissatisfied with their weight and their body image, complain generally of poorer health and are trying to diet (even though boys are more likely to be overweight). Self-esteem appears to plummet with the onset of puberty. Worse, there is also what's known as gender equalisation, with girls catching up with boys on drunkenness and sexual activity.
Yet, thinking about how health services in particular are promoted and provided, it's hard to see how well they respond to these differentials. We tend to have unisex services that are blind to gender.
Maybe it's time for a change in approach, one that recognises the differences between boys and girls in adolescence, and targets what is provided accordingly, using the most appropriate media to reach their audience. Girls, after all, also appear to have more close friendships with peers and use social media more to engage and communicate.
This report from the World Health Organisation provides a wealth of data but it will be worth little if we don't use it to inform how we design and deliver services and support for young people in the future.
Moreover, its findings point up the need for early intervention – to try to see off problems before they happen. Most importantly, it shows that we must start – seriously – tackling the structural inequalities in our society.
Most young Scots get along just fine and are mostly doing well. But that's not good enough. We need to ensure that all our young people get to be happy, healthy, safe and secure, and go on to enjoy an adulthood full of promise and opportunity, not problems and barriers.
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