(Sexual health of teenagers in England and Wales: analysis of national data)
(Sex and drugs and rock and roll)
British teenagers have the worst sexual health in western Europe find researchers in this week's BMJ. In addition they have the highest pregnancy rate and are more likely to have used illicit drugs says Professor Martin McKee in a linked editorial. These factors, he says are symptomatic of a wider malaise in British adolescents and he calls upon health professionals to welcome the government's move to address these issues in their entirety rather than tackling them on an individual basis.
In their paper Dr Angus Nicoll and colleagues from the Public Health Laboratory Service in London and Cardiff report that the sexual health of adolescents in England and Wales worsened quite significantly between 1995-6. In 1996 teenage females accounted for 20 per cent of all pregnancy terminations and nine per cent of births. Girls aged 16-19 years had the highest rates of gonorrhoea, genital chlamydia infection and warts, of all women. These findings lead the authors to conclude that there is substantial sexual ill health among teenagers in England and Wales and they say that sexual health should be a priority for co-ordinated national and local health promotion among young people.
Prof McKee suggests that the problem is wider than sexual health and cites teenage drug taking, smoking and drinking as other areas of concern, particularly when British teenagers' behaviour is compared with that of their western European counterparts. He speculates that the reasons British teenagers fair so badly in the league may be down to poor education amongst those teenagers in lower socio-economic groups; more families in the UK living in poverty than in the rest of the European Union and the lack of time British families spend together, due to British parents working the longest hours in Europe.
The author says that to date the UK has tackled teenage behavioural problems on an isolated basis:- a drugs 'tsar' to co-ordinate action on illicit drugs; a health policy which aims to reduce rates of teenage smoking and adolescent drinking is moving up the government agenda under pressure from senior police officers. However, what is needed is a more widespread approach to tackle the general malaise, says McKee and he welcomes the move by the government's social exclusion unit to tackle the complexities derived from the interaction between poverty, low educational achievement and health.
He concludes that the unit offers real hope for addressing teenage behaviour and encourages other health professionals to welcome the initiative.
Professor Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Health, European Centre on Health of Societies in Transition, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London
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Dr Angus Nicoll, Consultant Epidemiologist, HIV and Sexually Transmitted Disease Division, Public Health Laboratory Service, Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre, London
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