The Association for Young People’s Health (AYPH) is the UK’s leading independent voice for the health and wellbeing of people aged 10–24 years. Dr Ann Hagell, AYPH’s Research Lead, and Dr Rakhee Shah, the organisation's Research Associate, share the highlights from AYPH’s recent report.1

Many of our health behaviours such as smoking and drinking are established in our teens and early 20s. It’s a time when young people may need support to establish healthy life choices which they can carry into later life.

The AYPH took a list of 17 measures of health and wellbeing, and compared the UK’s 10–24-year-olds with those living in 18 similar high-income countries.

The good news

16–24-year-olds have been smoking less and drinking less over the past decade. This is good news as smoking is the largest preventable cause of cancer in adults.2 There is also strong evidence that drinking alcohol can cause six different types of cancer.3

The bad news

However, the UK’s young people are more overweight and do less exercise than other high-income countries. As well as having the highest rates of obesity in 15–19-year-olds compared with 14 European countries, the UK also has one of the greatest differences in obesity levels between those living in the poorest areas of the country and those in the richest areas.

These results are concerning because adolescents who are obese are five times more likely to be obese as adults.4 

Reducing risk

It is crucial that age-appropriate interventions focus on getting young people to do more exercise, especially teenagers – when exercise levels typically drop.5 Policies that focus on reducing obesity and maintaining a healthy weight in adolescence and in the early 20s play a vital role in adult cancer prevention.

Our international comparisons tell us that we can, and must, do better to improve the state of young people’s health in the UK and ensure healthy adults in the future.

  • Our Cancer Health Check is a great tool for people aged 18 and over to check how closely they follow our Cancer Prevention Recommendations and receive practical tips on how to improve their health.


1AYPH. International comparisons of health and wellbeing in adolescence and early childhood. 2019.

2Cancer Research UK. How does smoking cause cancer? 2018.

3World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Alcoholic drinks and the risk of cancer. 2018.

4Simmonds M et al. Predicting adult obesity from childhood obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysis. 2015.

5AYPH. Key data on young people 2017 latest information and statistics. 2017.