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In a recent study, researchers explored how health in early adolescence impacts academic achievements and employment opportunities.

Education is becoming an important predictor of health across an individual’s life. Finishing high school without proceeding to start work or pursue further education may be associated with high health and economic burdens. Individuals who experience this can be categorized under the “not in education, employment, or training” (NEET) umbrella.

Poor health can lead to poor educational and employment outcomes

It is important to explore an individual’s risk of falling under the NEET umbrella. Previous studies on this have focused on socioeconomic and educational factors. However, health during adolescence is also an important factor to consider. Previous studies have found that poor health can lead to impaired educational and employment outcomes. Factors affecting poor health include poor classroom conduct, social exclusion, low aspirations and substance use all of which lead to poor social outcomes and reduced attendance in school.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, researchers sought to understand how exactly health can lead to poor outcomes in adulthood. The study used data from the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE), which surveyed 892 schools every year from 2004, when respondents were at an approximate age of 13 years, to 2011 when they were 19 years old.

The study considered physical or mental illness, learning disorders, disability, abnormal behaviour, or infirmity. They used a general health questionnaire to measure self-worth, self-confidence and enjoyment of day-to-day activities. Researchers calculated educational attainment levels by studying performance on coursework.

Long-term effects of poor adolescent health

The study found that poor health in early secondary school years impairs academic success and young people’s transition into productivity and employment.

Young adolescents with poorer health had a greater chance to be in the low attainment category in education. The adolescents with poor health also had a greater chance to be categorized under the NEET umbrella. The individuals’ mental health was also affected, which subsequently affects educational attainment when there are social and behavioural problems.

Serious illness in childhood can alter educational attainment

This study adds to existing findings that indicate that serious physical illness or serious psychiatric disorders in childhood can change attainment in education across secondary school. The school absence rate is five times more for children with chronic conditions than for healthy children.

Psychological distress was an important factor as well, affecting women more than men. Substance use led to low mental well-being and subsequently affected educational attainment, affecting men more than women. This study primarily identifies mediators that link health and academic performance as well as employment including school behaviour, truancy, social exclusion, long-term absences, and substance use to improve health outcomes in adolescents as well as to reduce health inequalities that exist.

The limitations of the study also need to be considered. The study results may have been influenced by factors that were not accounted for such as greater metabolic needs, intellectual differences, parental stress on account of illness, and ethnic differences. Thus there are multiple variables affecting people who are categorized under the NEET umbrella.

Overall the study suggests that health in early adolescence is an important predictor of future success. Subsequently, the authors conclude that investments in the health of early adolescents will improve life outcomes.

Written by Sonia Leslie Fernandez, Medical News Writer

Reference: Hale, D. R., & Viner, R. M. (2018). How adolescent health influences education and employment: investigating longitudinal associations and mechanisms. J Epidemiol Community Health, jech-2017.

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