Most of Ireland’s teens are healthy and ambitious, but not all of them get the same fighting chance

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20% of 17 and 18 year olds surveyed were found likely to be depressed.

NEARLY 30% OF 17 and 18 year olds in Ireland have tried cannabis, while 90% have tried alcohol, a new report on the lives of those in that age bracket has found.

The Growing Up in Ireland Survey, which published the report, has followed a group of 6,000 young people since they were nine years old. 

The latest round of interviews were conducted with the group in 2015/16 while they were 17 and 18 years old.

Although the survey reported “encouraging findings” around the teenagers’ health and ambition, it cautioned that there were worrying results around social inequalities, risk of depression, obesity and hazardous drinking.

Nearly all of the group described themselves as being in good health, and over one-third described their health as “excellent”.

83% were still in secondary education, 12% were in post-school education or training, and 5% had entered the labour market or were economically inactive.

Most of them reported positive school experiences and the majority of parents expected that their child would continue to higher education. 

Over a quarter had participated in volunteer work, particularly in organisations such as Scouts, or in sport-related volunteering and fundraising.

However, the report identified risk factors and challenges linked to the transition between adolescence and adulthood.

Among the 90% of 17 and 18 year olds who had tried alcohol, most had their first drink between 15 and 17.

One-third were classified as risky or hazardous drinkers, and one in 20 were classified as high or very high risk.

Mental health

20% were considered ‘likely to be depressed’ after filling out a questionnaire on depressive symptoms, with young women more likely to receive a score in that category than young men (24% compared to 16%).

Young people who had been in the ‘likely to be depressed’ category at age 13, when the group was last interviewed, were more likely to still be in that category than their peers, with 42% still likely to be depressed.

Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration Roderic O’Gorman said that the report “provides valuable insights about the lives of young people”. 

“While the findings show that most young people are faring well in education, health and relationships – they also highlight some worrying issues and reveal inequalities in some outcomes by social background and gender.

“The findings in this report will help my Department in supporting the well-being of young people and tackling social and gender inequalities. I am determined to ensure that, in light of the impact of Covid-19 restrictions, these inequalities are not further exacerbated.”

Smoking

Although almost half had smoked a cigarette at some point, only 8% smoked daily, and 12% smoked occasionally.

Similarly, although one-third had tried cannabis, just 2% reporting using it more than once a week, and under 8% smoking it occasionally.

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The report found disparities between the experiences of young people from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

Only 29% of young people in the lowest income quintile said they were in excellent health, compared to 43% of those in the highest income quintile.

Engagement with education was lower in young people from the lowest income quintile, of whom 33% disliked school, compared to 16% of those from the highest income quintile.

The Junior Certificate revealed gaps in achievement between the more advantaged and less advantaged groups, which amounted to around one grade point per subject.

Rates of obesity or being overweight were higher among young women than young men, and young women were less likely than their male counterparts to meet the World Health Organization physical activity targets for adults.

Young people in the lowest income quintile were also more likely to be obese or overweight than those from the highest income quintile, and less liley to meet the WHO target for physical activity.

Lead author of the report Dr Eoin McNamara noted that findings, which were collected in 2015/16, reflected the experiences of young people “before the Covid-19 pandemic”.

“They do suggest that lack of access to school resources during the pandemic, such as career guidance, is likely to have been particularly consequential for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds,” he said 

“The results also suggest that, with the restrictions on team sports and exercise classes, access to safe outdoor spaces in which to engage in individual exercise is likely to have been particularly important to maintaining healthy levels of physical activity.”

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