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Queen's-led study key to improving the health of young people

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

A recent report shows Canadian youth smoking rates have dropped in the past 20 years, while rates of obesity and cannabis use remain consistently high. The Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) report explores trends in the health of young people over the past two decades.
Study author John Freeman.
 
The HBSC survey has been coordinated every four years since 1989 by the Social Program Evaluation Group (SPEG) of Queen’s University in partnership with the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada. The study is supported by the World Health Organization and has 43 participating countries primarily from North America and Europe.  Ã¢Â€ÂœThe success we have achieved in reducing adolescents' smoking rates in Canada shows what we can accomplish with a unified cross-sectoral public health approach,” says John Freeman (Education), director of SPEG.
 
Five key findings came out of the HBSC report:
  • Cigarette smoking is the one public health concern that has shown the greatest improvement for Canadian adolescents over the past 20 years. In 1994, Canadian 13-year-old boys and 15-year-old girls had the highest rates of smoking at least once a week internationally. In the 2010 survey, Canadian boys had the lowest smoking rates internationally and rates for Canadian girls dropped to some of the lowest in the countries surveyed. This approach should be adopted in tackling other health issues.
  • Being overweight or obese is an ongoing concern for Canadian students in Grades 6 to 10. In the 2010 survey, Canada ranked second out of 39 HBSC countries in the prevalence of overweight and obese 15-year-old boys and girls. For 13-year-old boys and girls, Canada ranked third and fourth respectively. These numbers have changed little over time.
  • Canadian adolescents have consistently been among the highest levels of cannabis use internationally. In 2010, Canada ranked first for cannabis use in 15-year-old girls and 15-year-old Canadian boys ranked second. Forty percent of Grade 10 Canadian boys and 37 percent of Canadian girls reported having tried cannabis.
  • The prevalence of reported well-being for Canadian young people has been decreasing since the beginning of the survey cycle. The life satisfaction on the national level, as compared to other countries, has been worsening. With a focus on promotion of positive mental health, researchers expect this to improve in the 2014 survey.
  • Youth voices should continue to be heard on research, policy and programming that affect their health.
“The Government of Canada is pleased to have supported Queen’s University in the development of this important report,” said Gregory Taylor, Canada’s Deputy Chief Public Health Officer. “Having accurate information available that helps us understand the changes in the behaviours and attitudes of children and youth is invaluable. This will help to inform policy and program decisions that ultimately promote the health and well-being of Canadian children and youth.”
 
Other Queen’s contributors to the report include Matthew King (SPEG) and Heather Coe (Faculty of Education).