For 30 years Health Behavior in School-Aged Children (HBSC) has been a pioneer cross-national study gaining insight into young people’s well-being, health behaviours and their social context. This research collaboration with the WHO Regional Office for Europe is conducted every four years in 45 countries and regions across Europe and North America. With adolescents making about one sixth of the world’s population, HBSC uses its findings to inform policy and practice to improve the lives of millions of young people.
In Bulgaria the study was conducted by the Institute for Population and Human Studies, part of the Bulgarian Academy of Science and Research Center “Health Psychology” in partnership with UNICEF – Bulgaria.
The latest HBSC study report, Growing up unequal: gender and socioeconomic differences in young people’s health and well-being, was presented in Sofia. At the press-conference participated policy-makers, practitioners, NGOs, researchers and journalists. The report presents data from the 2013/2014 survey.
Most of the collected data for Bulgaria confirms global trends, but in some areas Bulgarian adolescents are ‘champions’ and this is an alarming signal that we need to strengthen national efforts to improve health and health behavior of young peope. Successful strategies must be evidence-based and there should be a broad partnerships between family, young people, institutions and society. The specific needs of young people must be taken into account and they should be empowered to make healthy choices and decisions in their lives.
The study in Bulgaria was conducted among 4796 students from fifth, seventh and ninth grade (11, 13 and 15 years old), a total of 311 classes from 163 schools.
Children reported that:
- The most common complaints are nervousness (36.8%) and irritability or bad mood (30.9%).
- The most frequently consumed food are sweets (43.8%); followed by vegetables (41.1%), fruits (36.7%) and non-alcoholic beverages containing sugar (34.5%). Young Bulgarians are at the first places in the use of sugary foods and soft drinks with sugar.
- Almost a quarter of boys and 13% of girls are overweight. The daily physical activity decreases with the age – for girls decline between 11 and 13 years and for boys – between 13 and 15 years.
- Bulgarian teenagers are at the first places in the weekly use of alcohol and cigarettes. The results of Bulgarian teens are similar to the one in Malta, Italy, Croatia and Hungary. Children in Scandinavian countries reported significantly lower usage of alcohol and cigarettes.
- 30% of 15 year old girls smoke at least once a week, for boys the percentage is 21%. This ranks Bulgaria in second place after Greenland. 77% of 15 year olds have never tried cannabis but at the same time the ones that have tried are among the ones with the most frequent usage.
- 40% of 15 year old boys and 21% of girls reported having had sexual intercourse. In girls, this proportion is much lower than the proportion in countries such as Hungary, Denmark, Scotland, Finland, Sweden, and Czech Republic. At the same time only 56% of girls and 66% of boys said that they used a condom during their last sexual intercourse. The average age of the first sexual intercourse is 14 years.
- Students in Bulgaria are among the top 10 countries in terms of “school bullying”. More often victims of abuse are boys (12-20% in different ages) than girls (10-17%). Violent boys are more than girls – 15% of 11 year olds, 17% of 13 year olds and 18% of 15 year olds. At the same time the smallest share of Bulgarian children compared to the other 45 countries in the survey believe that their classmates are kind and helpful.