The Health Foundation has just released its first report in its Young People’s Future Health inquiry. This inquiry, started in 2017, is to be two years long, and aims to discover what factors affect the long-term health of young people. Described by the Foundation as “first-of-its-kind” research, this project uses engagement studies and conversations with people aged 22-26 from across the UK. It explores these rich qualitative responses to try to understand how the current situation young people find themselves in may be posing a risk to their future health – something which the whole country should be concerned with.
Overall, the report suggests that the gains we have made in young people’s health could be merely temporary, as the current experiences of young people have the potential to act detrimentally to their future mental and physical health.
Determinants of health
Young people’s health depends on multiple factors, including housing, employment, finances, diet and transport. Experience of these factors whilst aged 12–24 will affect the rest of an individual’s life, which is why this research is so important. The report notes that – as today’s young people are less able to meet the traditional milestones in transitioning to adulthood (buying property, securing good employment, settling down) – they face new challenges, which mean they are experiencing the social determinants of health in new ways compared to previous generations. This, as the Health Foundation argues, is where the issue lies.
In looking at what factors encourage or hinder young people’s progression into adulthood, the Health Foundation identified four key assets. The access to – and ability to develop – these assets has a profound impact on future health.
Appropriate skills and qualifications
It emerged that whilst 92% of young people believed that it is important to have the appropriate qualifications for their careers, fewer than half actually believe they will be able to achieve these. This has numerous implications for mental health, demonstrated by the Prince’s Trust finding that 28% of young people in work felt trapped in a cycle of jobs they weren’t interested in.
Young people recognised that personal connections who could help with employment advice, building networks and confidence were key to securing employment. Despite appreciating the importance of these, only 31% of young people in this survey felt they fully had them whilst growing up. This “social bank of Mum and Dad”, as referred to by the Prince’s Trust, should not be underestimated, and can be integral to employment success.
Financial and practical support
The need for both financial and practical support as a “safety net” when transitioning to adulthood was also highlighted. Those who lack this, find the transition, particularly with regard to housing, more stressful. In fact, housing continues to emerge as an area of concern: the precarity of young people’s ability to own a home means they feel nervous about planning for a future.
Strong emotional support, whilst only experienced by about half the young people surveyed, also emerged as a necessity. It was seen to be important that young people could speak openly and honestly about their plans for the future.
These assets are important because they form the foundations for a young person to develop a healthy adult life. The extent to which they have these assets changes their ability to create a healthy future for themselves, and determines their later health and wellbeing.
It is noticed that there is a difference in how young people from different socio-economic backgrounds and geographical areas experience these assets, but it is also implied that the current generation may not have the same opportunities to develop them as generations before. We must pay attention to these if we are to ensure continued good health for young people as they transition into adulthood.
The report calls for the UK to create opportunities for young people that encourage a healthy future. It suggests we should measure how much a society is thriving by whether it is a good place to live for young people. There need to be ways for young people to take the value from the above assets, and ensure that they can develop these regardless of where in the UK they are based.
Julia Unwin, strategic advisor to the Young People’s Future Health inquiry, summarises the need for further action: “Young people are our future. And yet for many, the path to adulthood fails to give them the stability they need to ensure it is a healthy one. This should worry us all.”