The health of its young people is one of the biggest assets a country holds, determining its future wellbeing, costs and productivity. It forms the basis for the health of democracy, the economy and shapes the social fabric. For governments across the world, the stewardship of this asset needs to be a priority—any erosion is a major risk.
The gains made in young people’s health over the last few decades in the UK, specifically from the investment in early years, was the starting point for the Health Foundation’s Young people’s future health inquiry.
The inquiry’s first phase of research and engagement—described in our first report, Listening to our future — found that while these gains are significant, other factors and experiences pose risks to young people’s safe and healthy transition to adulthood. Many of these experiences are shaped by the places young people grow up: economy and opportunities, community and the availability of public services affect their life chances.
Between the ages of 12 and 24, young people go through life-defining experiences and changes. Most aim to move through education into employment, become independent and leave home, and it is also a time for forging key relationships and lifelong connections with friends, family and community.
These milestones have been largely the same across recent generations. But today’s young people face unique opportunities and challenges compared to their parents and carers, and from those they imagined themselves to be facing during their teenage years.
This matters because these building blocks—a place to call home, secure and rewarding work, and supportive relationships with friends, family and community—are the foundations of a healthy life. And there is strong evidence that health inequalities are largely determined by inequalities in these areas—the social determinants of health. So, while young people are preparing for adult life, they are also building the foundations for their future health. Young people’s future health isn’t simply their own concern, it is also one of society’s most valuable assets.
This report is the second from the Young people’s future health inquiry and outlines the findings from site visits to five places across the UK. In each location, the inquiry team listened to the perspectives of both a mix of young people who lived there and the people who work in organisations to support them.