Results of longitudinal study shine unique spotlight on Canadian youth and health

Social Sciences

Bonnie Leadbeater discusses the study with a UVic student on campus (September 2016). Credit: UVic Photo Services

A unique 10-year study of nearly 700 youth reveals a generation of young people highly connected to family and their communities, often with higher education but also struggling with work, housing, debt, stress and weight issues in the transition to adulthood. Comparable national data draw similar conclusions, but no other research study in Canada has followed a full decade of observation of youth from one distinct region and varied socio-economic backgrounds.

The first of its kind study, “Changes and Challenges: A Decade of Observations of the Health and Well-Being of Young Adults in British Columbia,” was released today by Island Health and the University of Victoria. It spans a decade (2003-2013) of repeat interviews with 662 young people from Greater Victoria as a random sample cohort of youth from ages 12 to 18.

“This snapshot in time of people now 25 to 31 years old is applicable to any youth right now,” says UVic psychologist and lead author Bonnie Leadbeater. “Being 12 to 18 years old is the time in life where young people are establishing a foundation for lifelong well-being. This study carries important national messages about the need for better policies and changes in attitudes and actions to improve youth self-care, promote health and reduce stress in this age group.”

Public depictions often focus on millennials’ socially active lifestyles, lack of sleep, alcohol use and too much time spent on devices. The new study calls for a whole-person approach that views young adults as connected to parents and romantic partners rather than as independent and isolated.

“Far from the carefree, party-oriented youth culture of the advertisements that target them, many youth in this study were found to be juggling education, work, lack of sleep, mental health and relationship problems,” says Richard Stanwick, co-author and chief medical officer of Island Health. “Hypertension and obesity are also threatening the long-term health of more than a third of these young people.”

Balancing school, work and life caused undue hardship for this cohort, leading to stress and other health-related issues.

The study outlines the health, social and financial factors and also notes the need for improved self-care through adequate sleep, physical activity, healthy eating and stress regulation. It found that many of the youth pursued higher education with 45 per cent completing a university degree, 23 per cent obtaining a college diploma and 19 per cent becoming certified in a trade.

Murray Fyfe, second co-author and a medical health officer with Island Health, adds, “A public health approach with an emphasis on healthy public policies can have wide-reaching effects. This includes policies related to income, post-secondary education, affordable housing, transportation and access to healthy food. While the health and well-being of young adults may not often be at the forefront of our minds, support for this age group does deserve more attention.”

Leadbeater’s work has been supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for more than a decade.

See the full report at

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Anne MacLaurin (Social Sciences Communications) at 250-217-4259 or

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In this story

Keywords: psychology, mental health, longitudinal studies, children, community, research

People: Bonnie Leadbeater

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