Reduced smoking and alcohol consumption, increased fruit and vegetable intake and higher vaccination rates were positive signs of improvement in the overall health of children in NSW but there is no room for complacency, according to a new NSW Health report released today by NSW Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant.
The percentage of young people who smoke tobacco also decreased by just under 10 per cent, from 27.6 per cent in 2003 to 17.8 per cent in 2013.
Smoking has substantially decreased in students aged 12–17 years, from 27.3 per cent in 1984 to just 7.5 per cent in 2011. In 2013, just over 40 per cent of males and 55 per cent of females aged 16–24 years reported they had never smoked.
Declines in alcohol consumption were observed in those aged 12-17 years, suggesting a delay in the age at young people start drinking. The percentage of young people aged 16-17 years who had tried alcohol dropped from 96 per cent in 1987 to 87.5 per cent in 2011. In young people aged 12-15 years, the figure dropped from 88.5 per cent in 1987 to 60.9 per cent in 2011.
Dr Chant said over 90 per cent of students reported they had attended a school lesson about the risks associated with drinking.
“I am delighted to see that smoking and alcohol consumption in young people continue to decrease, although high consumption of fast food and high energy drinks in teenagers still remain a concern,” Dr Chant said.
“In 2012–2013, 53 per cent of children aged 9–15 years drank two or more cups of soft drink each day, and just over one third (35 per cent) consumed fast food at least once a week. One quarter of children aged two–15 years (24.6 per cent) consumed fast food on a weekly basis in 2012–2013.
“Alarmingly, around 40 per cent of children aged 2–15 years drink at least two cups of soft drink, cordial or sports drink per day, with 21.2 per cent reporting they drank six or more cups per day.
“In the area of overweight and obesity, the report found that while over one in four children were overweight or obese, there is an early indication of a decline.”
Dr Chant said the percentage of children and young people participating in the recommended amount of daily physical activity had increased; whilst considerably more teenagers are spending less than two hours per day in sedentary behaviours.
“However, there is no room for complacency in the areas of reducing obesity rates, soft drink and junk food consumption, TV and computer screen time.
“This is a key focus of the recently-launched NSW Health Eating and Active Living Strategy, a major cross government initiative to address overweight and obesity.
“The importance of ensuring NSW children and young people grow up as healthy as possible, and adopt healthy behaviours early on in life, cannot be stressed enough.
“Health in the early years of life provides a foundation for future health, development and wellbeing.
“Severe illness, poor lifestyles and exposure to factors that adversely affect the health of children and young people may have far reaching consequences and result in poor health and adverse health behaviours through adulthood.
“The health and healthy development of children and young people is a shared responsibility of parents and carers, the wider community and governments.
“NSW Health is committed to improving the health of children and young people, as evident from the wide range of health services and initiatives as well as our strongly collaborative work with other agencies such as the Department of Education and Communities, child care centres and many other organisations.”
About the Report: The Health of Children and Young People in NSW: Report of the Chief Health Officer series has been produced regularly since 1996 and is a flagship publication of the NSW Ministry of Health. The report changed from 2012 onward to provide an in-depth picture of the health of a particular sub-population or health issue in NSW, rather than an overview of the health of the total NSW population, as in past editions. This 2014 edition reports on the health of children and young people aged 0–24 years in NSW.
The Health of Children and Young People in NSW: Report of the Chief Health Officer 2014 applies a data and evidence driven, population health approach to key health issues and health risk factors. It also provides information on available services for improving the health and wellbeing of children and young people. The Report adopts an equity lens to review health disparities across demographic groups, such as age, sex, Aboriginality, socioeconomic status and remoteness.