Key findings from the 2013/2014 cross-national HBSC study

On health and health behaviours

  • Girls report poorer mental health than boys, and the difference between genders increases with age. By the age of 15, one in five girls (20%) report their health as being fair or poor, while one in two (50%) experience multiple health complaints more than once every week.
  • Overweight and obesity is higher among boys than girls, yet girls are more likely to think that they are fat; this increases with age from 26% at 11 years to 43% by 15 years. One quarter (25%) of 15-year-old girls are on a diet or taking some form of action to lose weight.
  • Eating habits worsen with age: the frequency of breakfast consumption, eating fruit and taking meals with family all decrease between the ages of 11 and 15; by the age of 15 only 29% of boys eat fruit daily (compared to 37% of 15-year-old girls) and 22% of boys drink soft drinks every day.
  • Levels of physical activity remain very low, with only 25% of 11-year-olds and just 16% of 15-year-olds meeting current guidelines. Girls are persistently less likely than boys to meet currently recommended levels of physical activity.
  • On average, half of boys (50%) and 40% of girls report at least one medically attended injury in the last 12 months. Prevalence is higher among boys of all ages and is associated with higher affluence, possibly due to greater involvement in sports among these groups.

On risk-taking behaviour

  • The study reports a major decline in smoking behaviour since the previous report (2009/2010) – the proportion of 15-year-olds who first smoked at the age of 13 or under fell from 24% to 17% (HBSC average) over the period between studies. The reduction was greater among girls (22% to 13%) than boys (26% to 22%).
  • The study shows considerable declines in alcohol use since 2009/2010: the proportion of 15-year-olds reporting weekly drinking has fallen from 21% to 13% (HBSC average), while the proportion of 15-year-olds who report having been drunk at least twice has fallen from 32% to 22% (HBSC average). Boys are more likely to drink regularly than girls, but the gender gap has reduced in recent years.
  • Lifetime cannabis use (15-year-olds only) varies dramatically by country, from 29% of boys in Estonia, France and Switzerland to 0% of girls in Armenia. The impact of affluence on lifetime cannabis use also varies; it has strong associations with high affluence in some countries (such as Denmark and Estonia) and with low affluence in others (including Scotland).
  • Reports of experiencing sexual intercourse have declined for boys and girls since the previous study: the rate is down from 29% to 24% for boys and from 23% to 17% for girls. Boys are more likely to report having had sex than girls, though girls report it more commonly than boys in England and Wales. 

On social interaction with family and peers

  • A majority of young people report good relationships with their parents, but communication and support declines with age, particularly for girls.
  • Most countries show that family support and communication is higher in more affluent families. 
  • Peers can be an important source of social support; unlike parental support, levels of peer support remain stable at all ages and are not subject to decline as young people grow older. 
  • The overall prevalence of being bullied was around 12% for boys and 10% for girls, with boys more likely to be bullied and to bully others.