Page last updated at 17:27 GMT, Monday, 8 December 2003

Teen lifestyle 'health timebomb'

Teen drinker
Teenage drinking is on the increase

The party lifestyles of teenagers today could be destroying their health later in life, warn doctors.

The British Medical Association describes their obesity, binge drinking, and promiscuity as a "potential public health timebomb".

It is calling for swift action to reverse the worsening trends in adolescent health.

It follows a prediction from England's Chief Medical Officer that children could die before their parents.

Official health statistics suggest a growing threat to child health on a number of fronts, says the BMA

The number of children with weight problems has doubled in the last two decades, with nearly one in five 15-year-olds now classed as obese.

It's not until you take all these figures together that you realise how worrying the situation is
Dr Russell Viner, Great Ormond Street Hospital
Alcohol consumption among the young is also on the rise - some under-16s admitting drinking an average of ten units of alcohol a week, five pints of beer or ten normal glasses of wine.

Six out of ten 16 to 24-year-olds admit not using condoms and rates of certain sexually transmitted diseases is soaring among this age group.

In addition, almost a quarter of 15-year-olds are regular smokers, and cannabis has been tried by one in three.

Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA's Head of Science and Ethics said: "Young people in Britain are increasingly likely to be overweight, indulge in binge drinking, have a sexually transmitted infection and suffer mental health problems.

"It is high time we provided education and healthcare services that target the specific needs of young people.

"We need to ensure that young people do not fall in between the gap between services for children and those designed for adults."

Dr Russell Viner, from Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, was one of the authors of the BMA report.

He told a newspaper: "The report paints a bleak picture.

"It's not until you take all these figures together that you realise how worrying the situation is.

"It seems that adolescents are the only age group whose health is actually getting worse."


The government is already considering moves to limit snack food advertising to children as experts warn of a child obesity "epidemic".

If we do not treat these problems when people are young they will carry poor health into adulthood
Dr Peter Maguire, BMA
Doctors are already seeing cases of diabetes brought on by poor diet and lack of exercise in children as young as 13.

They believe that being obese at this age increases the chance of obesity in adulthood, which is linked to a host of medical problems, including heart disease and cancer.

Dr Peter Maguire, deputy chairman of the BMA's Board of Science said: "The UK is facing a crisis in adolescent health.

"Problems such as obesity, addictions, poor mental and sexual health, all respond best to early intervention, but are not being effectively addressed.

"If we do not treat these problems when people are young they will carry poor health into adulthood."

The rise of the sex disease chlamydia is particularly worrying for doctors.

This may not cause symptoms in women - and remain hidden for years.

However, it can cause severe damage to fertility, leaving thousands unable to conceive naturally.


The government is spending money on campaigns to improve child health, including a free school fruit initiative.

It has published a sexual health strategy, and a teenage pregnancy strategy in an effort to reduce the UK's high rates.

However, it has faced criticism for failing to halt the selling off of school playing fields.

The following comments reflect the balance of views we have received:

Although it is easy to blame teenagers for their worsening health, us adults have to realise our responsibilities. When our kids are young enough for us to feed them right, what do we do? We feed them crisps, chips, sweets, fizzy drinks, fast food and burgers. They see adults smoking, drinking, often doing drugs. Any wonder then that they out-do us in greed. Teenagers may be fatter and more unhealthy than we were at their age, but we have only ourselves to blame for the bad habits that they have learnt, and built on. How can we expect kids to grow up when we are so childish ourselves?
Mary Brady, UK

This is going to have a negative effect on my health, but it's a step I had little choice but to take
Steven, England

All this has really not been thought out in the detail needed. Until two months ago I'd been a regular swimmer, training several days a week. I can't keep this up any more because I need that time in order to get the grades I'm told I need in my A-levels I'm studying for. I know this is going to have a negative effect on my health, but it's a step I had little choice but to take. The common factor in most teenagers' lives is their education. So if the problem is found in this age group wouldn't schooling be a logical place to start making changes?
Steven, England

Yes, this is a huge worry. Being a teenager myself, it scares me to hear some of the things, my fellow school mates, friends and other children from my school talk about. Drinking is what I would call the biggest problem. People as young as 14 are regular drinkers. I am aware of this, because of the conversations which I hear at school. Many teenagers come into school, smoking, or eating junk food as early as eight in the morning. Children at school, always choose pizza and chips in the school cafe, over roasted vegetables or healthy bakes. It worries me to think about the health situation of today's teenagers.

The BMA is to be congratulated for finally shouldering its responsibilities and speaking out, as it has with regard to smoking in public places. It was high time it voiced its concerns about young people's unhealthy lifestyle. Let's hope that parents and government heed the warning.
Barry Aelion, UK

I was fortunate enough to have lived through the flower power sixties. I had more than my fair share of girls, booze and cannabis. Just about every weekend when it was at it's worst (or should I say best). I couldn't manage it any more now that I've hit middle age, but, boy do I have some memories! Would I do things differently if I got a second chance? No way, what would I have to look back on then?
James Ryder, Finland

The complacency of parents and inabilities of the education system are clearly to blame for this shocking revelation
Bob, UK

I am a sixteen year old, and I too am alarmed by this, although not surprised. I know several people who drink all weekend, smoke all kinds of things and take whatever they can get. I chose not to live that lifestyle, having realised early it could have monstrous effects on health. The complacency of parents and inabilities of the education system are clearly to blame for this shocking revelation.
Bob, UK

Child food ads ban considered
02 Dec 03 |  Health
Sexually transmitted infections
11 Jun 03 |  Medical notes
One in 10 men 'has chlamydia'
22 May 03 |  Health
Teenage drinking on the increase
27 Nov 03 |  Scotland

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