Thursday 30 January saw the publication of the findings from the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) survey in Scotland. The much-anticipated report was launched at an event at the Royal College of Physician’s in Edinburgh with an audience of around 60 health practitioners, policy makers and researchers from across Scotland. Here’s some of the key highlights from the launch:
What is the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) survey?
The HBSC survey is an international survey supported by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that looks at the health and wellbeing of school-aged children in 50 countries across Europe and North America. The Scottish survey was launched in 1990 and since then data has been collected every four years from 11-, 13- and 15-year old young people. In 2018 the 8th HBSC survey was completed by 5,286 pupils from 208 schools across Scotland. The survey included questions on a range of health and wellbeing topics, such as diet, exercise, tobacco and alcohol use, sleep and mental health, and also on other aspects of young people’s lives such as their family, relationships and school. To reflect the changing world that young people are growing up in, new topics for the 2018 survey included questions on online communication, school expectations, cyberbullying, perceived discrimination and the WHO-5 measure of low mood and depression.
What does the HBSC survey say about young people’s mental health and wellbeing?
Key findings about young people’s mental health and wellbeing in Scotland include:
- Overall 85% of young people reported high life satisfaction, but life satisfaction decreased with age from 91% at age 11 to 80% at age 15.
- 36% of young people said they were very happy. Happiness levels decreased with age.
- Just over half (51%) of young people reported often or always feeling confident, and confidence was higher among boys (60%) than girls (42%). Levels of confidence in 2018 were among the lowest seen in 24 years.
- Around 1 in 10 young people said that they always feel left out, with girls more likely to feel left out than boys.
- At age 15, almost half (48%) of girls perceived their body to be too fat, while boys were more likely to feel their body was too thin (17%).
- 1 in 3 15-years olds reported feeling irritable, feeling nervous or having sleep difficulties more than once a week.
- Over a third (37%) of young people were classified as having low mood, and more than one in 10 (14%) could be described as at risk of depression, with prevalence increasing with age.
What insights does the HBSC survey provide into things that influence mental health?
Many risk factors and protective factors have been identified that can influence mental health, including family relationships, peer relationships, pressure from school, sleep and physical activity. The HBSC survey included measures of these factors, and research highlights about the associations between these factors were presented at the launch event.
HBSC data show an association between sleep and young people’s experience with school, with “early birds” and those who get more sleep on weeknights having more positive school experiences. The data also show that low mood among young people is associated with school pressure, how much young people like school, their relationships with peers and family members and social media use.
So, how can the HBSC data be used to drive change and improve young people’s mental health and wellbeing?
Data from the HBSC survey are already being used to influence policy and practice around young people’s health and wellbeing. At a national level, evidence from the HBSC surveys have influenced Scottish policies around a range of young people’s issues including the Pregnancy and Parenthood in Young People Strategy, and the A Connected Scotland Strategy to tackle social isolation and loneliness.
HBSC data are also being used to instigate change within schools through the Schools Health and Wellbeing Improvement Research Network (SHINE). SHINE are using HBSC survey data to provide individual school feedback reports on the health and wellbeing of their pupils, which are being used and shared among school management, staff and pupils, parents and community partners to prioritise health and wellbeing activities, plan new initiatives and engage parents and the wider community with pupil health concerns.
At an International level, data from the HBSC survey will be used to inform the new WHO Child and Adolescent Health Strategy for Europe 2020-2030, which is currently being co-produced with young people across a range of European countries.
We’re now looking forward to the publication of the International HBSC report in April 2020, to see how the UK compares with other European countries when it comes to our young people’s health and wellbeing.