Young people in Australia – more risk averse but not necessarily more healthy

A new study from the Centre for Alcohol Research Centre at La Trobe University and the National Drug Research Institute at Curtin University has found that recent declines in youth drinking in Australia appear to be part of a broader shift towards less risky lifestyles for young people. However, young people aren’t necessarily being healthier in general.

By compiling data from the last twenty years from many sources, the researchers identified declines in substance use, youth offending and injuries due to underage driving. Conversely, physical activity and diet worsened between 2001 and 2017 (although obesity was stable). Rates of suicide and major depressive disorders increased.

Lead author Rakhi Vashishtha said, “We know that youth drinking has declined significantly in Australia, with weekly drinking for 12-17 years olds declining from 34% in 2002 to 15% in 2017.”

“This decline in youth drinking does not appear to have led to healthier behaviours more widely, but our findings suggest it may be related to a more risk-averse way of living.”

“Going forward, further work could be directed towards identifying which factors have impacted positive changes in risky behaviours. Public health efforts could then be directed towards the behaviours or outcomes that have not yet improved.”

Dr Amy Pennay said, “the study shows that while many risky behaviours have declined, such as crime, risky driving and substance use, broader health behaviours like exercise and diet have worsened.”

“It’s not simply that young people are being ‘healthier’, but there is clearly something broad going on affecting more than just alcohol consumption,” she said.

The paper Trends in adolescent alcohol and other risky health‐ and school‐related behaviours and outcomes in Australia will be published shortly in Drug and Alcohol Review.