group of teenage girlsEnglish schoolgirls are less satisfied with their lives than boys and feel more pressure to succeed at school, and their happiness level drops significantly in their teenage years, a report has revealed.

The report, authored by University of Hertfordshire researchers, provides English-based results, shared as part of an international World Health Organization collaborative Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) report. 

When comparing international data, English young people are also shown to experience higher socioeconomic inequalities on a number of health indicators compared to other countries across Europe, the US and Canada. These include multiple health complaints, self-rated health and tobacco use.

Girls from the least affluent households (lowest 20%) in England also rate their health much lower than girls from the most affluent (highest 20%) households and the difference between these groups is one of the largest across all countries surveyed.

The report shows as girls in England hit their teenage years the number who rate their happiness as high dropped from 81% at aged 11 to 55% at 15. In comparison, 74% of 15-year-old boys say they are happy, down from 81% at aged 11.

The results also show that the number of 15-year-old girls in England who can be said to be thriving has dropped by 10% from 2002, with just 55% rating their life satisfaction as high in 2014. 

Worryingly, nearly three times as many 15-year-old girls as boys said they self-harmed, and girls were more likely to report self-harming on a frequent basis.  

Professor Fiona Brooks, one of the authors of the report and head of adolescent and child health research at the University, said: "This report tells an important story about young people’s health right now in England, traditional risk behaviours are in decline which is great news but what will be of concern to teachers, parents and families are the more negative results on emotional wellbeing and positive behaviours such as physical activity."

The HBSC study for England was led by researchers from the Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care, University of Hertfordshire. It takes place every four years and was launched in England in 1997.

It also found just 15% of girls and 22% of boys manage to get the recommended 60 minutes of exercise per day. And roughly a fifth of youngsters reported not getting enough sleep to feel awake and concentrate at school. 

More positively, levels of drunkenness, smoking and regular alcohol consumption all fell from 2002. In 2014, just 32% of girls and 29% of boys said they had been drunk two or more times – down from 55% in 2002.

In addition, just 8% of girls and 6% of boys smoke weekly – down from 28% of girls and 21% of boys in 2002.

Rates of sexual activity have also declined with just under 21% of 15-year-olds reported having sex compared to 38% in 2002.

Rates of violence have also gone down, with just under 25% of boys reported getting in a fight in the past 12 months, compared to 34% a decade ago.

Finally, half of 15-year-old girls said their body is too fat, and as they aged from 11 to 15 they were more likely to feel lonely, less focused and tired than their male counterparts.