Last year, The Horizon Scanning Programme Team began research into a project that looked at the impact of ‘risk behaviours’ on the health of children and young people throughout England.
Risk behaviours are defined as activities or events that “potentially expose people to harm, or significant risk of harm which will prevent them reaching their potential, or damage their health and wellbeing.” The main aim of the research was to see what, if any, changes had taken place and ascertain the reasons behind this. Last week, a discussion paper on this topic was published which has published evidence to suggest that the number of risk behaviours children and young people are involved with is gradually declining. The discussion paper further explores the decrease, looks at the causes and outlines other emerging risk behaviours that may be cause for concern in future years.
What changes have taken place?
The research undertaken in this area over the past year shows a gradual decline in the numbers of risk behaviours children and young people are either participating in or becoming involved with including drinking, drug use, smoking, youth crime, suicide, and teenage pregnancy.
Why has there been a change?
The academics, practitioners, policy officials and young people involved in the research felt that the changes were due to a number of factors including:
- Policy Interventions – the introduction of more effective enforcement policies such as under-age drinking.
- Improved Parental Monitoring – children have better relationships with their parents and are more closely supervised.
- Children and young people have found other activities and interests which have distracted them from risk behaviours, such as the surge in popularity of social media.
What do these changes mean?
In terms of health and wellbeing, the researchers who led the project are particularly encouraged by the “clear evidence that moderate use of technology is likely to have significant positive impacts, improving wellbeing and social connectedness…for many young people it will be a valuable source of information and support, alleviating concerns about mental or sexual health.”
However, the researchers did acknowledge that spending too much time on social media and with technological devices could have negative impacts on the health of individuals, particularly if they are exposed to content which is deemed as harmful, such as pornography, sexting and bullying.
Other areas of concern which have been highlighted as emerging risk behaviours include social isolation and loneliness, anxiety and depression, self harm and body appearance issues such as eating disorders.
However, the team did also find that the number of children and young people who are at risk of becoming obese or overweight has stabilised. Though this is somewhat in contrast with evidence that shows the number of young people partaking in physical activity is on the decline. In 2008, 28% of boys and 19% of girls were doing enough to satisfy the recommended guidelines. However, that figure has dropped to 21% and 16% respectively in 2012.
We would be interested to hear whether you think you risk behaviours in children and young people are declining in East Berkshire. You can get in touch with us by sending us a message on our Facebook page, or tweeting us.
If you live in East Berkshire and are concerned about risk behaviours in your children or those you know, there are a number of support services available in the local area including CAMHS and Bracknell Forest Council’s Family Information Service.