15 March 2016

Young people in the Netherlands: less sex, smoking, drinking and cannabis – yet still sociable and satisfied.

The Healthy and Happy Generation

Young people in the Netherlands and across Europe are increasingly refraining from smoking, drinking, using cannabis and having sex. This is according to the international WHO/HBSC report, describing research into the health and well-being of young people in Europe and North America. Gonneke Stevens, a youth researcher at Utrecht University, who worked on the study in the Netherlands: “One of the many questions that we put to young people was: have you ever had sex? Only 16% of Dutch 15-year-olds answered in the affirmative. In only four other European countries was that percentage lower.”

A total of 200,000 young people aged 11, 13 and 15 from 42 different countries took part in the international HBSC study, conducted in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO). The children answered a range of different questions: how happy and healthy they feel, how good their relationships with parents and friends are, and what they think of school. The data was collected in 2013. The organisations that contributed to this large-scale, four-year long study on behalf of the Netherlands were Utrecht University, the Trimbos Institute and the Social and Cultural Planning Office (Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau). The study was funded by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (Ministerie van Volksgezondheid, Welzijn en Sport).

Smoking, drinking and using cannabis

The report reveals that smoking, drinking and using cannabis were significantly less prevalent among both Dutch and other European young people in 2013 than in 2009. Stevens: “The figures speak for themselves: the decline in substance use we identified among Dutch young people in 2009 has continued, although the decrease is most significant among 11 and 13-year-olds.” 

Good children?

Well-behaved, civilised, good. When Stevens tries to find a word to describe the young people aged 11, 13 and 15 questioned in the HBSC report, published every four years, she fails to find an apt description. “All those words have negative connotations. That would send out the wrong message, because Dutch young people are doing well on almost every front. They live healthy and happy lives and have done for quite some time.”

Socio-economic status

Of course, the picture painted by the report is not all positive. It clearly reveals the social inequality that exists in Europe in terms of health and happiness. This applies equally well to the Netherlands. Young people from less prosperous families have to cope with less social support from their parents, they are less satisfied with their lives, are more frequently bullied and more likely to be overweight. 

Communication with parents

Compared to the previous study in 2009, the number of Dutch young people who are positive about communication with their parents has fallen. In the past, the average Dutch 15-year-old felt able to communicate with his or her parents better than any other European. “The figures from 2013 are slightly less favourable,” says Stevens. “It is nothing to worry about, but Dutch 15-year-olds no longer top the list in terms of how easy they find it to talk to their parents.” The researchers also identified an increase in the pressure of school work felt by Dutch 15-year-olds. “This is quite separate from their relationship with their classmates. They are extremely positive about that: in fact, nowhere is this relationship better than in the Netherlands.”

Self-image

A remarkable finding from the report is the difference it reveals between Dutch young people's actual body mass index (BMI) and their own self-image. Stevens: “We determine BMI based on the young people's self-reported height and weight. This reveals that Dutch young people are less likely to be overweight than the average young European. But we also asked them: do you consider yourself fat? Here, the Dutch young people answered in the affirmative more often than other Europeans of the same age. This reveals a discrepancy between reality and their self-image when it comes to weight.”

Presentation in Brussels

The WHO/HBSC report was presented in Brussels today. An international press release has also been published about the report.

More information

Press Office faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Ronnie van Veen. +31 30 253 4027, r.a.b.vanveen@uu.nl
Press Office Trimbos Institute, Marjan Heuving. +31 30 2971 138, MHeuving@trimbos.nl
Press Office SCP, +31 70 340 7417, pers@scp.nl