Suicide, unhappiness, obesity and limited social and academic skills have become much too frequent among the children from wealthy countries, according to the latest UNICEF – Innocenti report.
Feeling positive and being in good mental health are key aspects of quality of life. However, a striking number of children in rich countries do not have good mental well-being, says the report: In 12 of 41 countries, less than 75 per cent of children aged 15 have high life satisfaction.
Turkey reports the lowest rate of life satisfaction (53%), followed by Japan and UK. Children who have a low support family support and those who are victims of bullying have a much more fragile mental health.
What is concerning is that suicide is one of the most common causes of death for adolescents aged 15 to 19. Lithuania reports the highest suicide rate among teenagers, followed by New Zealand and Estonia.
Health indicators also highlight areas of concern: 1 in 15 infants in rich countries is born with low weight – a key risk to survival. In 10 countries, more than one in three children is overweight or obese, with a growing trend of these rate being reported in Southern Europe as well. The number of obese children (aged 5–19) worldwide is expected to grow from 158 million to 250 million by 2030.
Many also lack basic academic and social skills by the age of 15: Two in five children (on average) do not acquire basic reading and mathematics skills by age 15. In seven countries, the number drops to less than one in two.
Children from Romania, Bulgaria and Chile seem to rank at the bottom of basic reading and math skills, while kids in Estonia, Ireland and Finland shining on reading and math.
For an equally important skill set – feeling confident in developing interpersonal relationships – most children agree that they make friends easily. But in 18 countries more than one in four children disagree. Children in Chile, Japan and Iceland have the lowest trust in making friends.
Children view good relationships as crucial. Those with more supportive families have better mental well-being. Many children feel that they lack opportunities to participate in decisions at home and at school.
Bullying by peers remains a serious problem; it has a lasting negative impact on relationships and health. Children who are frequently bullied have lower mean life satisfaction. In some countries, at least 1 in 10 parents report no family or friends they can count on for help with looking after their children.
In almost half of rich countries, more than one in five children live in poverty. In many countries, the poorest children are at greater risk of depression, obesity and low academic achievement. Children without books at home to help with school work suffer academically. More time playing outside is linked to much higher levels of happiness. Yet many children say that good play and leisure facilities are not available in their neighbourhoods.
Measles immunization rates have dropped in 14 out of 35 countries with available time-series data. Public provision of high-quality childcare provides a stimulating social and learning environment – and helps to reduce socioeconomic disadvantage. And yet, on average, across 29 European countries, one in seven parents with a child under 3 has unmet childcare needs.
Adolescents disengaged from education and the labour market face a difficult start to adult life. In five rich countries, more than 10 per cent of young people aged 15 to 19 are not in education, training or work.
As for Romania, our country ranks fourth in the UNICEF report on the mental health of children, after the Netherlands, Cyprus and Spain.
85% of the Romanian children aged 15 have a high life satisfaction, with Romania ranking third on that, after the Netherlands and Mexico.
83% of the children aged 15 from Romania make friends easily, which is the highest percentage among the countries surveyed in this study.
67% of the Romanian children say they are involved in the decision making at home (the highest percentage in the report), and 56% say they participate in the decision-making at school.
25% of the Romanian children were obese or overweight in 2016, with Romania having the same percentage as the Netherlands and Denmark.