Launch of international Health Behaviour in School-aged Children report in Moscow, Russian Federation

Alexander Natruskin/RIA Novosti

On 14 December 2016, the launch of the latest international Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) report in Russian – “Growing up unequal: gender and socioeconomic differences in young people’s health and well-being” – took place in Moscow, Russian Federation. The survey results from the Russian Federation were highlighted within the context of international findings and trends.

Dr Haik Nikogosian, acting WHO Representative and Head of the WHO Country Office in the Russian Federation, opened the event by acknowledging the support provided by the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation for organizing the event and translating the international report to Russian. He noted that these efforts have made the findings of the report accessible to a wider Russian-speaking population in the WHO European Region.

Dr Dorothy Curry, Deputy International Coordinator of the HBSC survey, University of St Andrews, United Kingdom (Scotland), explained the aims and methods of the survey and presented its international findings. She emphasized that the majority of 11-, 13- and 15-year-old girls and boys (almost 220 000 in total) from 42 countries in the Region and North America reported high life satisfaction. However, the report demonstrates marked differences across countries, age groups, socioeconomic classes and genders. Understanding these differences gives policy-makers a better chance of designing effective policies and interventions.

For example, many more girls than boys perceive themselves as too fat (43% and 22%, respectively), and yet fewer girls than boys (13% and 22%, respectively) are actually overweight or obese. This demonstrates that gender norms and roles are often shaped by societal expectations, and can affect exposure to health risks and protective factors.

Dr Martin Weber, Programme Manager, Child and Adolescent Health, WHO Regional Office for Europe, explained that because the HBSC study has been running for over 30 years, it allows for the comparison of trends over time both within countries and across them. He also highlighted examples of how countries have successfully used the data to inform and change policies. All data from the report, as well as a summary of success stories, are available online in English and Russian.

Changing policy on physical activity in the Russian Federation

The 2009/2010 HBSC report showed significantly low levels of physical activity among Russian adolescents. This raised concern at the national level and spurred the Russian Ministry of Education and Science to include a third hour of physical education per week in the school curriculum. The success of this policy change was measured in the 2013/2014 survey, which shows a gradual rise in the proportion of Russian youth meeting the guidelines of physical activity – from 16% to 23% for boys, and from 9% to 15% for girls.

Highlights from the Russian report

Dr Anna Matochkina, HBSC Principal Investigator in the Russian Federation, St Petersburg Scientific-Research Institute of Physical Culture, highlighted the findings of the Russian report. The Russian Federation joined the HBSC study in 1990, and the latest survey was the sixth in which it participated. In general, the report revealed positive trends in the country that are consistent with the global picture. For example, around 82% of young people in all 3 age groups in the Russian Federation reported generally high life satisfaction.

Other positive changes in relation to the health and well-being of children and adolescents in the Russian Federation include:

  • school-aged children drinking fewer sugar-containing soft drinks;
  • gradual rises in levels of physical activity; and
  • gradual declines in substance use, including tobacco, alcohol and cannabis.

The report also indicates the need to pay close attention to the following trends.

  • Boys brush their teeth less often than girls, with prevalence remaining stable with age.
  • Girls use social media daily for communication with friends more often than boys, with prevalence increasing with age.
  • The prevalence of bullying at school is quite high.

Most indicators are directly related to family affluence, which emphasizes the need for country policies to promote and maintain the well-being of citizens at a sufficiently high level. Measures in this field are fundamental to preventing negative consequences for the health and well-being of children and adolescents in the Russian Federation.

The presentations were followed by an open floor discussion that highlighted different aspects of adolescent health, education and social well-being, and stressed the fact that the health behaviour of school-aged children is not only a health sector issue – it requires intersectoral approaches and action.

Background on the HBSC

The HBSC study is a WHO collaborative cross-national study that has provided information about the health, well-being, social environment and health behaviour of 11-, 13- and 15-year-old boys and girls for over 30 years. The latest report presents findings from the 2013/2014 survey on the demographic and social influences on the health of almost 220 000 young people in 42 countries in the Region 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. The latest HBSC report also places a special focus on the effects of gender and socioeconomic differences on the way young people grow and develop.