News, Culture & Society

NHS faces ‘ticking time bomb’ from teens’ unhealthy habits

The NHS is facing ‘a ticking time bomb’ because today’s youngsters are leading such unhealthy lifestyles, experts have warned.

Poor diet, smoking and a lack of exercise are to blame as figures show one in five secondary school aged children are already obese.

Late teenage years have been identified as the peak age for exposure to health risks with lifelong implications. 

Yet the health service is not prepared to cope with the ‘forgotten generation’ and the burden that they will pose in the future, researchers say.

The report, by the Association for Young People’s Health (AYPH), revealed teenagers eat eight times the recommended sugar allowance and almost half have tooth decay.

The worrying research also found that almost all smokers start before the age of 25.

Six in ten chlamydia cases are in young adults and eating disorders are most commonly diagnosed at 15.

  • A report has warned that the NHS is not prepared to cope with the ‘forgotten generation’ and the burden that they will pose in the future (stock photo)

    Study author and child health expert Dr Rakhee Shah said: ‘These data show that we are witnessing a ticking young people’s health time bomb.

    ‘Although young people are frequent users of health services, they often seem invisible and their needs are often not met effectively.’


    The Association for Young People’s Health’s report found that: 

    • 11-18 year olds consume eight times the recommended sugar allowance
    • 46% of 15 year olds have decay in their permanent teeth
    • 20% of secondary school aged children are already obese
    • 95% of smokers start smoking before the age of 25
    • 62% of chlamydia diagnoses are made in 16-25 year olds
    • Most common age for hospitalisation for eating disorders is age 15
    • 10-14 is the peak age for diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes
    • 16-20 year olds are most likely age to be diagnosed with asthma
    • Average age for child sexual exploitation concerns to be raised is age 15-17

    Services are not ‘youth friendly’ 

    The AYPH carried out a data review on the health of 10-24 year olds in the UK.

    The team found that, contrary to popular understanding, young people are frequent users of health services, 

    But the report warns health services are not youth friendly. 

    Paediatrics expert Professor Russell Viner said: ‘So often this age group is forgotten.’ 

    Half of Year 10 pupils (aged 14-15) report they have visited their GP in the last three months. 

    However, only a third of young people aged 18-24 report their GP appointment as good/very good.

    The report criticises the NHS for not making training in young people’s health mandatory for GPs. It also argues there is a lack of young people friendly services in hospitals such as adolescent bays. 

    Mental health is a ‘huge issue’

    The researchers also say mental health is a ‘huge issue’ for this age group but resources are very limited.

    Young women 16-24 are a high-risk group, with a quarter reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression.

    Rates of suicide are higher in young men than young women, indicating a lack of early identification of mental health problems in young men. 

    The report discovered one in ten under 19s are likely to have a diagnosable mental health disorder, yet out of 1000 young people only 24 were referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, and of them only 18 received treatment. 

    The study concludes that inequality greatly affects young people’s lives. It found that young people living in the most deprived areas are 3.7 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured on roads, are two times more likely to be obese, and are two times more likely to smoke regularly.


    Every extra two pounds an overweight person carries cuts their life expectancy by two months, new research reveals.

    Holding excess weight may shorten a person’s life by raising their risk of coronary artery disease, according to the researchers.

    Smoking has the greatest impact on shortening people’s lives, with a packet of cigarettes a day knocking off seven years, the research adds.

    The study also revealed every additional year an individual spends in further education extends their lifespan by 11 months by making them more aware of the dangers of smoking.

    Study author Dr Peter Joshi from the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘Our study has estimated the causal effect of lifestyle choices. We found that, on average, smoking a pack a day reduces lifespan by seven years, whilst losing one kilogram of weight will increase your lifespan by two months.’