Young Australians doing well to avoid cigarettes, substances, but obesity remains concerning

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Teenagers
Teenaged fans react as Canadian singer Justin Bieber performs at an early morning promotional event in Sydney July 18, 2012. Reuters

Young Australians over the country have been found to be doing well to avoid the bad habits of smoking, drugs and drinking alcohol, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). A new report shows the decreasing rates for smoking, single-occasion risky drinking and illicit drug use on teens. However, most young people were found to also avoid fruits and vegetables, and overweight and obesity rates remain high.

The AIHW found that the number of young people who smoke everyday decreased from 19 percent in 2001 to 9.1 percent in 2013, while 12- to 17-year-old Australians avoiding alcohol increased from 54 percent in 2004 to 72 percent in 2013. The overall number of youth deaths has been also declining since 2003, indicating a large reduction of deaths among young males in land transport.

The improvements over time in the health and wellbeing of 12 to 24 years old Australians were examined through the Youth indicators data portal, using the 38 key areas of health and social determinants. The AIHW analysed the rates of death and suicide, self-harm, substance use, obesity and physical inactivity as well as educational outcomes of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

Since 2003, there were seven to nine deaths in 100,000 young people due to suicide in the country, according to the AIHW. The suicide rates were seen highest in the 18- to 24-year-old age group, and the proportion of young males was almost twice higher than of young females.

However, females aged 12 to 24 have three times the rate of hospitalisations for intentional self-harm than males in the same age group. “Some of these hospitalisations could have been attempted suicides, and it is important to continue to focus on interventions that seek to minimise both self-harm and suicide,” said AIHW spokesperson Dr Fadwa Al-Yaman.

Al-Yaman also raised concern on the current rate of young people suffering from obesity and being overweight. Despite the decreased rate of young people with an inactive behaviour in 2007 to 2008 from 33 percent to 27 percent in 2011 to 2012, nearly a third of the population of 12 to 24-year-olds are overweight or obese.

There was also low consumption of fruits in young people, with only a third of the population in the same age group. And vegetables were only consumed by less than one in 10 teens.

In terms of education, the AIHW said that there is a stable increase in the number of young people aged 20 to 24 from 81 percent in 2004 to 86 percent after a decade. Those people commonly achieved either a Year 12 qualification, Certificate II or higher.

There was also a reduced gap between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous students in terms of educational achievements. The gap between young people attaining Year 12 qualification, Certificate II or higher, reduced from 40 percent in 2008 to 28 percent in 2012-13.

“The Australian government target to halve the Year 12 attainment gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous 20-24 year olds by 2020 is currently on track,” Al-Yaman said. However, despite the progress of young Australians, more than one in 10 young people aged 15-24 was not in schools, employment or training in 2014.

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