Exploring the limitations of an adult-led agenda for understanding the health behaviours of young people
Public health and health promotion agendas are usually determined by adults, even when the ‘target’ population is children and young people. Adult-centred frameworks for health maintenance and the promotion of well-being risk ignoring young people’s conceptualizations and experiences of health and health-relevant behaviours. However, the current policy emphasis in the UK and elsewhere apparently seeks to position young people at the centre of their own health-related decisions. Building on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, this paper examines and critiques policies relating to young people in UK, European and worldwide contexts. This paper then introduces data from two qualitative studies conducted in the UK. These studies illustrate that young people’s definitions of health often run counter to prevailing public health and health promotion discourses. Young people do, however, often exhibit strategies for managing their health, even though they are frequently restricted by the perceptions that adults have about their lives and behaviour. This paper argues that the new policy discourse is not yet being systematically turned into action to give all young people a voice. This is important to begin to understand young people’s perspectives about what matters to them and what really influences their health behaviours.