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Queen's-led study finds youth violence declining in many countries

A new international study shows physical violence among young people is on the decline overall in the majority of 30 mainly European and North American countries. The findings support theories that investment in violence prevention programs and other support networks do make a difference for the world’s youth.

“The observed declines in our measure of violence, which was frequent physical fighting in 11-15 year olds, are quite striking and interesting,” says project lead William Pickett, a researcher at Queen’s Community Health and Epidemiology and Kingston General Hospital Clinical Research Centre. “They provide a positive message for schools, public health officials and all groups invested in the well-being of our youth.”

Although Canada has always had relatively low rates of youth violence compared with many other countries, it increased slightly between 2002 and 2006, then declined again in 2010.

Ukraine, Latvia and Greece, on the other hand, were the only countries that showed increases in youth violence among young people according to the study. This could be a reflection of the instability and turmoil these countries experienced in recent years.

A variety of factors predict the occurrence of violence among young people according to the study. These include:     

• being born male
• living in low income countries
• living in more violent cultures with elevated homicide rates
• engaging in risk-taking behaviours including tobacco, marijuana and/or alcohol use, and
• victimization by bullying.

These in-depth results will influence decisions in directing age and gender specific resources to these at-risk adolescent groups. Strategies include family-based training, minimizing violence in public media, and school-based anti-violence programs and counseling.

Other members of the research team include Candace Currie (University of St. Andrews) and Fiona Brooks (University of Hertfordshire). The University of St. Andrews coordinated the study.

The study, Trends and Socioeconomic Correlates of Adolescent Physical Fighting in 30 Countries, is based on an international analysis of the World Health Organization’s Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC) study. It will appear in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics. The eight-year study surveyed half a million youth in 30 countries aged 11 to 15 years. The HBSC involves a network of researchers in 43 countries.

In Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research provided a five year operating grant for the study. Funding for the HBSC in Canada was also provided by the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada.