Turning HBSC study data into action: creating a strategy for pregnancy and parenthood in young people in the United Kingdom

As sexual activity is a very personal and private issue, data are often lacking in this area. The Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study in Scotland is particularly valuable because it provides the only nationally representative and internationally comparable data on the sexual behaviour of Scottish youth. Its findings are shaping public health policy in the country.

Research shows that early sexual initiation, pregnancy and parenthood are closely linked to economic and social deprivation. Women under 20 years of age who live in the most deprived areas of Scotland are 5 times more likely to get pregnant, and nearly 12 times more likely to continue the pregnancy, than peers living in the least deprived areas. Yet delaying pregnancy in young people can reduce the likelihood of poverty and its continuation from one generation to the next.

Reflecting concern about the issue, a Scottish parliamentary committee in 2013 recommended that a strategy be developed on pregnancy and parenthood in young people. The HBSC team in Scotland acted as a key government partner in identifying relevant data and trends for this process. In March 2016, the Scottish Government adopted the Pregnancy and Parenthood in Young People Strategy.

The Strategy situates pregnancy and parenthood in the context of wider social and economic determinants to address the fundamental causes and consequences of unintended pregnancy in young people. Young people’s own experiences, opinions and ideas were fundamental to the development of the Strategy, which goes beyond the delivery of health-care services and aims to empower them to improve their own health.

HBSC experts and their research have been critical to national health promotion efforts and are making a difference within practice, policy and legislation. The HBSC team is currently working with the Scottish Government to develop the first 10-year strategy for children and young people’s health and well-being.

More about the HBSC study

The WHO collaborative HBSC study has been a pioneering cross-national study and an invaluable resource for over 30 years, providing insights into young people’s well-being, health behaviours and social context. WHO and many others have used its findings to inform policy and practice in countries and regions across Europe, contributing to improvements in the lives of millions of young people.

The HBSC study in Scotland is led by Jo Inchley from the Child and Adolescent Health Research Unit (CAHRU) at the University of St Andrews. For more information, contact jo.inchley@hbsc.org.