AYPH’s Research Lead, Ann Hagell, sets out UK data-based reasons for investing in young people’s health

Good health for young people is central to their wellbeing and forms the bedrock for good health in later life. This is what the World Health Organisation calls the ‘triple dividend’  – improving health now, enhancing it throughout the life course and contributing to the health of future generations.[1]  The years from 10-24 represent the transition to adulthood; if young people are well supported then the foundation for health in adulthood can be set at this time, but the transition can also pose health risks with lifetime consequences.

There are lots of different ways of making the ‘why invest’ argument.  It can be done, for example, from a human rights perspective.[2]  Another, very concrete, way is to see what the data say about the benefits of investment.  AYPH’s Key Data on Young People resource collates publicly available data on young people’s health and health service use from a wide range of sources to provide a holistic picture of the age-group. The resource extracts data specifically relating to the 10-24 age group, rather than combining them with younger children or older adults.  This highlights a number of critical reasons for investing in young people’s health. 

These include:

Reducing early mortality.  Many deaths of 10-24 year olds fall into ‘preventable’ categories, including accidents and self-harm. More needs to be done in the teens and early adulthood to reduce these deaths.[3]

Reducing later mortality. Risk factors for later mortality are laid down in the teens and early 20s. In high income countries the major risks factors contributing to mortality are tobacco use, alcohol use, obesity, high blood pressure, high blood glucose, physical inactivity, high cholesterol, illicit drugs, workplace risks and low fruit and vegetable intake.[4] If we can get prevention and early intervention right at this age, many of these risk factors can be tackled. As we’ve noted, adolescence is a time when risk taking behaviours begin and life-long health behaviours are set in place. Data on smoking, drinking, drug use [5]  and obesity [6]  all demonstrate this.

Stopping health inequalities in their tracks before they exacerbate.  There is a lot of concern about widening health inequalities and the data show an increase in, for example, obesity among 10-11 year olds in areas of multiple deprivation, [7]  We need to halt this trajectory as soon as we can before it is embedded for all of adulthood. 

Starting off on the right foot when long-term conditions emerge.  The first signs of many serious long-term conditions emerge at this age. It represents the peak age for diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes [8] and young people are more likely than other groups to be diagnosed with asthma.[9]  The majority of long-term mental health problems will also start at this age.  Getting help and learning how to manage these conditions is a critical task in the teens and early 20s.

Filling ‘treatment gaps’ to prevent problems getting worse.  Good services for young people are central to improving their health but more needs to be done to make them accessible and youth friendly. Data suggest there are big treatment gaps in child and adolescent mental health, and that young people can feel less satisfied with health care than other age groups.[10]

Keeping current positive trends going.  Positive trends in young people’s health behaviour need continued support in order to continue, such as falls in teenage pregnancy. [11]

There’s often a sense that prevention and early intervention belong in early childhood.  This is not the case; some of our best preventative work can be done in adolescence.  These years through the teens and early adulthood are a key time for embedding healthy habits and ‘making things stick’.  Investing in this age group is essential for them, for our health service, and for all our futures.


[1] Patton, GC, Sawyer, SM, Santelli, JS, Ross DA, et al. (2016) Our Future: the Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health and Wellbeing. Lancet 387: 2423–78.

[2] Jukes K (2016) There is a human right to health and this is how it works.  Each Other blog, Accessed 8 March 2022

[3] Office for National Statistics (2020) Mortality statistics – underlying cause, sex and age, England and Wales, 2019

[4] WHO 2009

[5] For example, data from the Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use Survey (NHS Digital, 2019)

[6] National Child Measurement Programme (NHS Digital, 2021)

[7] Obesity inequality data, NCMP (NHS Digital, 2021)

[8]  Peak age for diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes is between 9 and 14 years (Diabetes UK, 2021)

[9]  Young people aged 16-20 are the group most likely to be diagnosed with asthma (British Lung Foundation, 2016)

[10] CAMHS treatment gap; Low levels of satisfaction with primary care associated with self harm and poor sleep (Yassaee et al, 2017)

[11] Teenage pregnancy trends data