Youth health

Youth health and wellbeing focuses on the healthy development of young people. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines young people as those aged between 12–24 years. This definition is used in the New Zealand’s Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy.

There are about 800,000 young people in New Zealand. Our young people, as the next generation, shape the future of Aotearoa New Zealand. Young people deserve to be supported and empowered to reach their full potential and enhance their mana. Having healthy young people ensures a healthier society for New Zealand, both now and in the future.

How are young people doing?

Many young people, across all population groups, have good wellbeing and family relationships. Youth health has improved significantly in recent decades. The rates of substance abuse, early unprotected sex and risky driving have declined. Children and young people with complex health conditions are living longer and healthier lives, and fewer young people die of preventable conditions. Families, whānau, health services and communities have been important for these successes.

At the same time, major challenges remain.

  • Rates of mental distress appear to be rapidly increasing. This is consistent with patterns in other developed nations.
  • Major inequities remain, with poorer health care access and higher unmet health needs among Māori, Pacific and lower income groups.
  • There are some very concerning mental health trends and socio-economic disadvantages may be having worsening impacts on teens.
  • Access to health care remains a barrier for secondary school students.

These findings from the Youth 19 study shows that we can do better in supporting all young people and especially those facing multiple challenges.  

Young people have told us what could be changed to support them better

  • Save our future
  • Listen to us
  • Connection and Fun
  • Support us

The Ministry of Health is committed to supporting young people to overcome the challenges they face in order to thrive and live healthy lives. Some of the key areas where the Ministry provides support are:

  • Sexual and reproductive health
    • Sexuality is a normal part of life. Young people should be supported and empowered to ensure that they make healthy decisions for their sexual and reproductive wellbeing.
  • Emotional and mental health
    • Young people should be supported to develop good emotional and mental health.  Young people should be empowered to enhance their mana. It is important that our young people feel cared about and feel part of their whānau, schools and communities.
  • Access to health care services
    • Young people should be supported by their whānau, school and wider community and the health system in their journey towards improved health and wellbeing. This means ensuring that young people have access to quality health care services.
  • Substance use
    • Young people should have guidance and support from their wider whānau and community in order to help them make healthy decisions about the consumption of alcohol and other substances.

For more information, see the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy and the findings of the Youth 19 study. This is a representative study of youth health in New Zealand which includes findings from secondary schools, alternative education and those not enrolled in study, work or training.

The following sections provide information to support young people, and those around them so they can live healthy and happy lives.

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