Are we ignoring youth health?

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In the first of a series of blogs based on Thread & Fable’s Engaging Youth research launched earlier this year and the latest youth research that’s been out since, we look at how the physical and mental health of young people impact their lives and how this can inform our approach to engaging them.

Whatever sector you’re in, brands have to fight harder to be transparent whilst improving the lives of the audiences they serve. When it comes to young people you really can’t afford to ignore the health crisis they’re facing.

Trawling through research for the Engaging Youth report, it was pretty evident that young people are being faced with a double whammy – some of the biggest physical health challenges and disparities the UK has ever seen and the rapid rate of mental health issues in today’s society.

Young people’s happiness and confidence in their physical health in the UK is at it’s lowest, despite health being something that young people are searching for most online and are conscious of.

There continue to be gender differences around body confidence, although lower household income was perhaps the biggest determinant of the risk of childhood obesity. The Girls Attitude Survey launched by Girl Guiding this summer found that 47% of 7-10 year-olds don’t have access to a playground with swings and a slide for example.

Being active on a regular basis is a cornerstone for boys’ friendships, whereas for girls this drops off at the end of primary school and continues to do so in adolescence, with a big disconnect between girls knowing they need to be active and actually being so.

Girls look to older girls and female role models in the home when it comes to being active, so schemes like Girls Active in schools, increased profile of women’s national teams and ‘normalising’ physical activity for women through campaigns like This Girl Can are all offering glimmers of hope.

And it’s not just physical activity that young people learn from their parents but how and when they consume food and drink. Whilst the UK Government’s sugar tax is starting to show signs of progress on soft drink and free-sugar consumption, the complexities around education, family and screen time are perhaps more challenging when it comes to tackling youth nutrition and overall health.

Alcohol consumption and experimentation among young people has dramatically declined since 2000 and among more affluent young people, a rise in more conscious consumption leading to an increase in vegan and flexitarian diets highlights a widening disparity when it comes to household income.

Mental wellbeing has become one of the biggest issues for young people in modern society with 1 in 4 children and young people showing evidence of mental ill health.

Gender differences indicate the type of pressure and stresses that often cause some of the issues faced. For girls its school work and low confidence, which follows on for young women too who worry about ‘not being good enough’ and putting pressure on themselves (as well as societal expectations) to be successful across a number of spheres.

For boys, negative parental relationships were linked to aggressive behaviour whilst for girls it was associated with emotional difficulties. However, the nature of friendships (which will feature within this blog series) perhaps can be linked to how boys and girls deal with mental health issues.

You don’t have to go far to find social media statistics linked to mental health issues. Whilst there’s little to point to specific causation, there are particular trends and issues which are amplified and persistent on social media which have reformed the way playground dynamics are rolled out in 2019.

Having multiple Instagram profiles for different circles of friends is perhaps the most obvious way friendship circles on the playground could map to social media – being kicked out of a BFF group and limited to a more public profile, or not getting likes or access to friend’s stories, are all social currency. No surprises that Instagram are being pushed to look at ways to mitigate some of the potentially negative impact some of its features could hold.

Interestingly, the pressure to maintain these profiles and friendship constructs are another pressure young people are managing alongside real-life friendships and life. Women in Sport’s ‘Reframing Sport for Teenage Girls’ highlighted social media as a major aspect of time management and a crucial part of friendship.

Whilst this pressure to look popular and connected can’t be dismissed when mental wellbeing is under such significant threat among young people, social media is also a key factor in modern day living. Growing insight into the positives of connecting young people, forming friendships and relationships continues.

We anticipate more widespread discussion on appropriate use of social media and platforms to catch up with some of the issues that young people are facing; whether that’s a better way to manage the content that they have access to, signposting young people when patterns of behaviour indicate issues, or functionality to support healthy usage.

As brands then, how much of this information is useful to us? Ultimately how much can we tackle such major issues as part of our business?

Whilst you may not have the answers to some of these challenges, as brands and organisations you can help improve lives as well as being profitable. Whether that’s through well-constructed CSR programmes, or activities that offer value to your target audience, or simply through the means by which you’re engaging with them. Are you asking for the right kind of social interactions on social media for example? Could you run campaigns that promote a positive activity, encourage a conversation on a key theme or promote an issue young people are facing?

Engaging Youth can be read in full here