‘Notable difference’ in levels of good health among young people – census

There is a “notable difference” in levels of very good health among teenagers and young adults, according to newly released data from the 2021 census.

Young people’s general health has also seen a decrease over the past decade, in contrast to improvements for most other age groups.

The census asked people to describe their health by choosing between the options “very good”, “good”, “fair”, “bad”, or “very bad”.

Some 47.5% of people in England reported very good health, up from 45.0% at the last census in 2011, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

In Wales the figure rose from 45.7% to 46.6%.

The overall increase has been driven by improvements among older people, in particular among those aged 70-74, with 21.1% in England reporting very good health in 2021, up from 14.4% in 2011, along with a jump in Wales from 14.1% to 20.5%.

The proportion of people reporting very good health tends to fall gradually with age, though there is a “notable difference” among teenagers and young adults, the ONS found.

While 79.7% of females in England aged 10 to 14 rated their health as very good, this dropped to 67.8% for females aged 15 to 19 – a decrease of 11.9 percentage points and the sharpest fall between any adjacent age groups.

In Wales, the difference is even greater, with 80.9% of females aged 10 to 14 years reporting very good health compared with 68.0% aged 15 to 19, 12.9 points lower.

A similar pattern was found for males, though at slightly older ages, with 72.4% of 15-19 year-olds in England saying they were in very good health, falling to 63.2% for 20-24 year-olds, a difference of 9.2 points.

The equivalent figures in Wales were 72.4% for 15-19 year-olds compared with 62.5% of 20-24 year-olds.

There has also been a decrease in general health among younger people since the previous census in 2011.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

In England, the only groups to see a drop in the proportion reporting very good health since 2011 are people aged 15-19, 20-24, 30-34 and 35-39.

In addition, all these groups except 35-39 year-olds saw a fall in levels of good health, along with a rise in those reporting fair or bad health.

All data has been age-standardised, meaning it has been adjusted to account for differences in population size and age structure to allow for a fairer comparison.

The ONS said the findings correspond with other census data showing that the percentage of disabled younger people “increased notably” between 2011 and 2021.

“This change in disability, and corresponding change in general health for these ages, could be influenced by an increase in the prevalence of depression at the time of census 2021. This was particularly notable for those aged 16 to 29 years,” it said.

The latest census took place on March 21 2021, one year into the Covid-19 pandemic and towards the end of the second wave of the virus, with many lockdown rules still in place including limits on meeting other people and travelling.

Young people had been particularly affected by lockdown restrictions, with schools shut for long periods, college and university facilities closed, and sport and leisure facilities out of bounds.

Census responses for young people may have been more likely to be reported by parents or guardians, the ONS added.