Adolescent health: behaviours, outcomes and social context

Teenagers are often portrayed as unhappy, problematic and difficult to live with. However, many of us may forget that the adolescent stage manifests in rapid physical, psychological, cognitive and socio-cultural changes for young people that occur at a time when a sense of identity and autonomy is being established. So, it can be a time of mixed emotions, new friendships, broken relationships and a general sense of uncertainty. What we should not forget is that adolescence is generally, a positive, healthy and creative stage of life.


The opportunities and threats to which children are exposed to are much greater than before in many areas of their lives. Coupled with the physical and emotional challenges of adolesence, and living in a society that is changing in terms of its culture and economy, this means that the factors influencing health and development are never constant. The Health Behaviour in School-aged (HBSC) study plays a key role in producing knowledge to help us understand more about adolecence. This information is used in practice, by policy makers and scientists to help improve their lives.


This year a second trends report was published (last time in 2013), and includes data from more than 50,000 Irish children aged 10-17 years, collected over five surveys in 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014. There is lots of good news in terms of health behaviours and the social contexts of chidlren’s lives. Comparing figures in 1998 to 2014 we found  increases in fruit consumption (18% vs 23%), tooth brushing (58% vs 70%) and use of seatbelts (41% vs. 81%), and decreases in smoking (23% vs 8%), drunkenness (33% vs 21%) and cannabis use (12% vs 8%). Across the survey years we also found increases in reports of excellent health (28% in 2002 vs 34%), communication with mother (73% vs 82%), father (47% vs 69%), liking school (68% in 2002 vs 72%) and the local area has good places to spend free time (50% vs 60%).

This good news is offset by Increases across survey years in: feeling pressured by school work (33% vs 43%), feeling low (23% vs 28%), headaches (26% vs 29%), dieting (12% vs 16%) and medically attended injuries (40% vs 41%). There are also decreases in having three or more close friends of the same sex (89% vs 87%) and reporting they could ask for help from a neighbour (74% in 2002 vs 70%). No changes were found in vigorous physical activity, being happy with life, life satisfaction, organising school events or feeling safe in local area.


The health status and contexts of adolescents impacts their development but also impacts families, health services and the economy. Most adolescents progress and develop to become healthy and productive adults, but there are some who may not, due to adverse conditions, experiences or habits. It is our responsibility to document through surveys such as HBSC, investigate and intervene to maximise the potential of adolescents to develop healthily and to live full and happy lives.

Dr Colette Kelly

Lecturer and Project investigator, HPRC

NUI Galway




Find full trends report here: HBSC national trends 2017

Thank you to all children, parents, teachers and school managements who have taken part in HBSC Ireland since 1998.

NOTES:  The HBSC is a cross-sectional study conducted in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe. It runs every 4 years and in 2014 there were 42 participating countries and regions collecting data on the health behaviours, health outcomes and contexts of children’s lives.

HBSC Ireland team members: Prof. Saoirse Nic Gabhainn Dr. Colette Kelly, Dr. Michal Molcho, Dr. Eimear Keane, Ms. Aoife Gavin, Ms Catherine Perry, Ms. Mary Callaghan, Ms. Lorraine Burke,  Ms. Larri Walker .

For a full list of papers, books, reports, factsheets and presentations from HBSC Ireland 1994-2017

HBSC International website:

Contact HBSC Ireland:



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