Gender and socioeconomic impacts on young people’s health

The Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study  is updated every four years and since 2002 has shown that differences in reported life satisfaction between adolescents in western and eastern Europe have narrowed, with countries such as Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Russian Federation and Ukraine reporting significant increases in life satisfaction over the period.

Data collected for the study are based on surveys completed by thousands of adolescents, ensuring that their voices and concerns can be taken fully into account when WHO frames its European strategies, policies and actions for improving child and adolescent health and well-being. The latest HBSC report, which presents data from the 2013/2014 surveys, has a special focus on the effects of gender and socioeconomic differences on the way that young people grow and develop.

According to the HBSC International Coordinator: “The findings highlight large gender disparities in health, which emerge or worsen during the adolescent years. While girls are more likely to eat fruit and vegetables and brush their teeth than boys, they report more negative self-perceptions and poorer mental well-being. Boys are generally more physically active but also more likely to engage in risky behaviours. Differences across countries show the importance of understanding the role of gender norms and cultural expectations in influencing behaviour.

The HBSC data has been fed into the WHO report Growing up unequal: gender and socioeconomic differences in young people’s health and well-being which covers 42 countries in Europe and North America. The cross-national survey covers diverse aspects of adolescent health and social behaviour, including self-assessment of mental health; obesity and body image; dietary habits; engagement in physical activity; support from families and peers; tobacco, alcohol and cannabis use; and bullying.

To read the key findings from the 2013/14 HBSC study, on the who.int website

To read Growing up unequal on the euro.who.int website

 

Encouraging healthy food choices

An EU-wide conference on Food Product Improvement was held earlier this year in Amsterdam which brought together representatives from the food industry, retail and supermarkets, NGOs and the EU member states. In addition, the World Health Organisation and non-EU countries such as Norway and Switzerland also took part – making this event the first time these organisations had come together on such a large scale.

The conference approved a “Roadmap for Action”, which calls for combined action to make food products healthier by gradually reducing the amount of salt, saturated fat and sugar (calories). This means a public-private partnership between experts from the member states and representatives of the food industry, patients’ associations and consumer organizations.

Several EU countries are already reducing salt, saturated fats and sugars in food products. This conference has paved the way for the Informal and Formal European Council meetings of the Ministers of Health later this spring where it is hoped to reach political agreement about implementation of the Roadmap.

To download the Roadmap for Action in English from the rijksoverheid.nl website

Vaping suppresses the immune system

The annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington was presented with evidence that vaping suppresses 6 times as many immune genes as smoking. After comparing genetic information swabbed from the noses of smokers, vapers, and non-users of both, researchers found that while smoking suppresses the activity of 53 genes involved in the immune system, vaping suppresses those and another 305.

Though research on the significance of that gene suppression is still ongoing, the initial results suggest that e-cig users may have compromised immune responses, making them potentially more vulnerable to infections and diseases.

To read more about the research findings on the arstechnica website.

English children have low life satisfaction

According to Barnardo’s, an international survey of children’s well-being reveals the eight-year-olds in England are less happy than those in Romania, Poland and Algeria.

England ranks 13 out of 16 countries when it comes to children’s life satisfaction, with only South Korea, Nepal and Ethiopia faring worse.

More than 17,000 children from 16 countries were asked about their family and home life, friendships, money, personal well-being and overall happiness.

To read the full report Children’s Worlds on the isciweb.org

Improving quality in HIV prevention

Quality Action is the EU co-funded ‘Joint Action on Improving Quality in HIV Prevention’ involving 45 partner organisations from 26 Member States.

It promotes practical tools and materials to maximise the quality of HIV prevention projects and programmes. Five practical quality improvement tools are ready, and more than 80 practical applications of the tools have been carried out and documented in case studies.

Quality Action has also developed a policy kit which offers concrete actions for integrating quality improvement into HIV prevention policies, strategies and action plans. The ‘Charter for Quality in HIV Prevention’ summarises quality principles, criteria and key activities to put quality improvement into practice and offer practitioners, experts, policy makers and all other stakeholders the opportunity to commit to improving their work in HIV prevention.

More information about Quality Action on the qualityaction.eu website

The health effects of sunbeds

Based on the available scientific evidence, the EU’s independent scientific committee has published its preliminary opinion that ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is a complete carcinogen, both an initiator, and a promoter. There is strong evidence that sunbed exposure causes skin melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and, to a lesser extent, basal cell carcinoma, especially when exposure starts young. There is also some evidence that sunbed exposure may cause ocular melanoma. Sunbed use is responsible for a noticeable proportion of both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers and for a large percentage of melanomas arising before the age of 30. The committee also concluded that sunbed exposure has few health benefits, and there is no need to use sunbeds for optimal Vitamin D levels. Because of evidence of the carcinogenic effects of sunbed exposure and of the nature of skin cancer induction (there are no indications for threshold levels of UV-irradiance and UV–dose), there is no safe limit for UV irradiance from sunbeds.

This opinion has been published for public consultation and people have until March 21st to respond.

To take part in the consultation, on the ec.europa.eu website.

 

“We love eating” project

This European initiative wanted to promote healthy lifestyles and took a fun and upbeat approach to healthy eating, focusing on 6 messages:

  • Enjoy shopping for a healthy meal
  • Enjoy cooking
  • Enjoy eating together
  • Enjoy drinking water
  • Enjoy colourful fruits and vegetables
  • Enjoy physical exercise

Although aimed at the general public, the project was targeted to children, pregnant women and older people who are in key life stages where good nutrition is particularly important.

To read more about “we love eating” on the ec.europa.eu website

Global recommendations to stop childhood obesity

The World Health Assembly recently adopted a global target for all countries to renew their efforts to halt the rise of obesity in children under 5 by 2025.

The Commission’s recommendations to address childhood obesity cover six areas:

  • promotion of intake of healthy foods;
  • promotion of physical activity;
  • preconception and pregnancy care;
  • early childhood diet and physical activity;
  • health, nutrition and physical activity for school-age children;
  • weight management.

To read the report and other publications on childhood obesity on the euro.who.int website.

The European code against cancer

Cancer incidence is rising in the WHO European Region – the total number of new cancer cases diagnosed in 2012 was 3.7 million, and the number is estimated to increase by 25% by 2030, to reach 4.6 million.

WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has issued a new edition of a code of actions that lists 12 ways people can adopt healthier lifestyles. It is estimated that almost half of all deaths due to cancer in Europe could be avoided if everyone followed the recommendations.

  1. Do not smoke or use any form of tobacco.
  2. Make your home smoke free. Support smoke-free policies in your workplace.
  3. Take action to have a healthy body weight.
  4. Be physically active in everyday life. Limit the time you spend sitting.
  5. Have a healthy diet:
    • Eat plenty of whole grains, pulses, vegetables and fruits.
    • Limit high-calorie foods (foods high in sugar or fat), and avoid sugary drinks.
    • Avoid processed meat; limit red meat and foods high in salt.
  6. If you drink alcohol, limit your intake. Not drinking alcohol can prevent cancer.
  7. Avoid too much sun, especially for children. Use sun protection. Do not use sunbeds.
  8. In the workplace, protect yourself against cancer-causing substances by following health and safety instructions.
  9. Find out if you are exposed to radiation from naturally high radon levels in your home. Take action to reduce high radon levels.
  10. For women:
    • If you can, breastfeed your baby as this reduces your cancer risk.
    • Limit use of hormone replacement therapy, which increases the risks for certain cancers.
  11. Ensure that your children are vaccinated against:
    • Hepatitis B (for newborns)
    • Human papillomavirus (for girls)
  12. Take part in organized cancer screening programmes for:
    • Bowel cancer (men and women)
    • Breast cancer (women)
    • Cervical cancer (women)

To read more about the code on the euro.who.int website