Wellbeing of Wales, 2022: children and young people’s wellbeing - A healthier Wales
This supplementary report is an extract of the analysis contained in the Well-being of Wales report concerning the wellbeing of children.
In this page
The goal for a healthier Wales
A society in which people’s physical and mental wellbeing is maximised and in which choices and behaviours that benefit future health are understood.
Low birth weight babies
The percentage of low birthweight babies has remained relatively steady over the course of the time series, typically fluctuating between 5% and 6%. The lowest figures on record were recorded in 2014 and 2015, since then there has been a slight upward trend with 2020 being the highest on record (6.1%) before falling back again in 2021 (5.8%).
In 2021, a slightly higher percentage of female babies had low birthweight (6.2%) compared to male babies (5.3%). This is broadly consistent with the longer term trend.
In 2021, 15% of pregnant women were recorded as smokers at their initial assessment. This accelerates the downward trend since data was first collected in 2016 and is two percentage points lower than in the previous year. However, the large decrease in 2021 may be affected by nearly all data being self-reported, rather than being carbon monoxide monitored.
A greater proportion of younger women were smokers at initial assessment than older women. A third of women aged 16 to 19 were recorded as smokers at initial assessment compared to one in ten women aged 30 or over. Smoking rates at initial assessment have fallen over the last five years for all age groups, (other than those aged under 16, which is subject to volatility due to the low number of women in this group).
Breastfeeding has health benefits for babies and their mothers. The latest annual data of the percentage of babies breastfed at birth was around 64% in 2021. This was 3 percentage points higher than in 2016. Babies of older mothers are more likely to be breastfed than those of younger mothers.
Teenage conceptions reached a record low in 2020 with 66.6 conceptions per 1,000 women. Wales has also seen a large decrease since 2009, down 11% from 74.7 conceptions per 1,000 women.
Healthy lifestyle behaviours
The national milestone on children’s healthy lifestyle behaviours is to increase the percentage of children with two or more healthy behaviours to 94% by 2035 and more than 99% by 2050.
The School Health Research Network Student Health and Wellbeing survey showed the percentage of 11 to 16 year olds meeting the national milestone remained at 88% in 2019 and has remained stable since data collection started in the 2013/14 academic year.
Healthy lifestyle behaviours include not smoking, never/rarely drinking alcohol, eating fruit or vegetables every day and being physically active for an hour or more, seven days per week.
In 2019, 95% of 11 to 16 year olds reported that they did not smoke and 81% reported that they never or rarely drank alcohol. 48% reported that they eat fruit or vegetables every day and 18% reported that they had been physically active for an hour or more, seven days per week.
In 2019, the percentage of children with two or more healthy lifestyle behaviours declined with age in secondary school and to a lesser degree lower family affluence. However, there were no large differences between girls and boys.
Reported physical activity levels declined with age in secondary school. Boys and children from a high family affluence background are more active every day.
The percentage of children who reported that they eat fruit or vegetables every day also declined with age in secondary school, with girls and children from a high family affluence background more likely to eat fruit or vegetables every day.
The percentage of children who reported that they did not smoke declined with age during secondary school. Girls and children from a high family affluence background were more likely to report they did not smoke.
The percentage of children who reported that they never or rarely drank alcohol fell with age during secondary school. There was little difference between boys and girls. However, children from a low family affluence background were more likely to report that they never or rarely drank alcohol.
In 2019, around a third of secondary school children walked or cycled to school with a slightly higher proportion of boys than girls walking or cycling to school.
The 2018-19 child measurement programme shows that just over seven in every ten Welsh children have a healthy weight and that reception-age children are significantly more likely than the Welsh average to be obese if they live in areas of higher deprivation. Boys are more likely to be obese or overweight in school, with the gap widening during secondary school.
Adverse childhood experiences
Results from the Welsh Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study show that when comparing people who suffered 4 or more harmful experiences in childhood with those who suffered none. Those who suffered were more likely to experience high-risk drinking in adulthood, to be a smoker, to be involved in violence in the last year and more likely to have been treated for a mental illness. Having some resilience resources more than halved risks of current mental illness in those with four or more ACEs.
Mental health and wellbeing
National indicator data for children aged 10 to 15 collected prior to the pandemic (2019/20 academic year) shows there has been little change in the mean Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire score since the 2013/14 academic year.
However more recent data from the School Health Research Network Student Health and Wellbeing survey comparing findings from before to during the pandemic (2019 to 2021) found a fall in the average mental wellbeing for 11 to 16 year olds, using the Short Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (SWEMWBS).
The average SWEMWBS score for 11 to 16 year olds was marginally lower in 2021 (23.0) compared to 2019 (23.7). While seemingly only a small reduction, given the large sample, this is a statistically significant decline in mental wellbeing.
Trends by ethnicity highlight a smaller relative decline in mental wellbeing between 2019 and 2021 among Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students compared to White students.
Data from the 2019/20 academic year shows that on average, problematic social media use increased with age (from year 7 to year 10) and was higher in girls than boys.
A fairly small proportion of adolescents reported taking part in cyber-bullying (around one in ten). However, a larger proportion reported experiencing cyber-bullying (almost one in five). Reported experience of being a victim of cyber-bullying differed little by age, but girls were more likely than boys to have reported being cyber-bullied.
Data sources and further reading
Adverse childhood experiences (Public Health Wales),
Conceptions in England and Wales 2020 (Office for National Statistics)
Child Measurement Programme for Wales (Public Health Wales)
Maternity and birth statistics: 2021
Student Health and Wellbeing In Wales: Report of the 2019/20 (School Health Research Network Student Health and Wellbeing Survey)