In all our lives there are certain things that make us stronger, safer and more well-rounded. It is no different for youth, but what is it that provides them strength and protects them from the challenges they face? Some of the answers are available because of research conducted by the McCreary Center Society for their BC Adolescent Health Survey.
The most recent survey, for 2013, is now available. The results derive from 30,000 questionnaires conducted by students in grades 7 to 12 in schools across BC. The results provide the most comprehensive and representative picture of youth health in the province.
One of the key themes arising from the analysis is protective factors. These are elements in the lives of BC youths that contribute to their general health and well-being. Among them are physical activity, good nutrition and feeling safe. We look at some of the most significant.
Good nutrition is a cornerstone of good health. An indicator used by the survey is consumption of fruit and vegetables. Youth who reported eating these three or more times per day were less likely to report extreme stress and more likely to report positive mental health. The 2013 survey showed improving trends in lower consumption of fast food, pop and energy drinks; but there was an increase in eating sweets. Also positive is an upward trend in youth eating breakfast now at 54%. Males were more likely to eat breakfast (61%) than females (48%) while females were more likely to never eat breakfast (15%).
Having a stable home provides benefits for youth. For example, among students currently living in a foster or group home, those who had not moved in the past year were more likely to report good or excellent mental health (84% vs 67%) and good or excellent health overall (86% vs 71%).
Feeling safe at home, in school and the neighbourhood is an important protective factor. Youth who always felt safe in their neighbourhood at night, were nearly twice as likely to have felt calm and at peace most or all of the time in the past month. At 65%, this is almost double the rate of those who never felt safe.
Parental monitoring helped youth in a number of ways. Youth who feel that parents or guardians were monitoring what they were doing in their free time were less likely to have used their cellphone after they were expected to be asleep, and were more likely to have slept for nine or more hours a night.
Having helpful adults in a student’s life was another important factor in their well-being. More specifically, if a youth with a mental or emotional health condition found a teacher they approached for assistance to be helpful, they were less likely to attempt suicide (28%) compared to those who approached a teacher but did not find this experience helpful (48%).
Other protective factors identified by the McCreary survey are having a caring adult outside the family; sports and exercise; and community connectedness.
The breadth of the information available via the McCreary surveys is impressive and should be a must-read for anyone with a youth in their lives.
Dr. Paul Martiquet is the Medical Health Officer for Rural Vancouver Coastal Health including Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, Sea-to-Sky, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.