Foreword by Scotland's Chief Medical Officer, Sir Harry Burns
The Scottish Government's Early Years Framework, published in 2008, is about giving all Scotland's children the best start in life. The Framework recognises that it is during the very earliest years and even pre-birth that a large part of the pattern for future adult life is set. The significance of the early years for influencing future health outcomes should not be underestimated.
In my 2011 Annual Report I said that the most significant issue I have to face as Scotland's Chief Medical Officer is the problem of health inequalities. Action on health inequalities requires action across all the social determinants of health. If we are to have the greatest chance of influencing the determinants of health and wellbeing, we should focus efforts on actions to improve the quality of care for children and families. We should start by making efforts to ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy, a nurturing childhood and support families to bring up their children in a safe, healthy, supportive and stimulating environment. Efforts to enrich early life represent our best hope of breaking the intergenerational cycle of disadvantage. A recent manifestation of Scotland's collective commitment to this is the establishment of the multi-agency Early Years Collaborative.
However, we should in addition look for ways of increasing opportunities for improvement across the life course. A life course approach recognises that early experiences, including risk and protective factors, affect later health. Health-related behaviours that usually start in adolescence (e.g. smoking, alcohol misuse) can result in poorer health outcomes in later life.
This second decade of life - youth - is critical to the development of future health behaviours. Youth is typically defined as a transitional and risky stage between childhood and adulthood. It is a period of experimentation, of biological and psychological change, and one which spans key transitions. It is a period of considerable change and we must support young people to negotiate their way through what is an increasingly complex world.
It is therefore critical we continue our action to encourage positive health behaviour development beyond the early years. And while we want to support all young people, we must ensure we target those most at risk of poor health outcomes, such as those exposed to chaotic early lives. We must work with these young people to improve their life chances.
Young people matter. But policy that aims to improve young people's health and wellbeing spans many Scottish Government Directorates and we have been told that the policy landscape is difficult to navigate. This paper attempts to simplify some of that complexity by bringing together key policies from across a range of Scottish Government Directorates. I hope it is helpful in setting out key policy in relation to youth health and helps to inform policy implementation.
Sir Harry Burns
Email: Elaine Bell