The rising national wealth across high-income countries has contributed to some improvements in health and well-being among adolescents, but the gap in health between rich and poor has widened, reveals a new study.
The study at McGill University in Quebec, Canada, revealed that socioeconomic differences across multiple areas of adolescent mental and physical health increased between 2002 and 2010, with young people from the poorest socioeconomic groups likelier to be in worse health, like being less physically active, with larger body mass index (BMI), and reporting more physical and psychological symptoms (such as irritability or headaches).
Lead author Frank Elgar said that a strong international focus on reducing child poverty and mortality in children less than 5 years has not been matched by a similar response in older age groups, resulting in widening socioeconomic inequalities in adolescent health.
Elgar continued that if health inequalities are now widening in such abundantly rich countries, particularly during the so-called "healthy years" of adolescence, then these trends are especially alarming for future population health.
The research also showed that adolescents living in countries with greater income inequality were less physically active had larger body mass index, lower life satisfaction, and reported more psychological and physical symptoms. Young people in these countries also had larger health inequalities between socioeconomic groups in psychological and physical symptoms and life satisfaction.
According to Elgar, the many health and social problems that relate to income inequality and the current global trends in rising income inequality all lead to a grim prediction about future population health. Urgent action is needed to tackle inequities in health in adolescence.
The findings are published in The Lancet.