Academics from York and Stirling universities analysed data on the education, health, wealth, relationships, housing, safety, contentment and participation in civic society of children from the European Union's 25 member states.
UK pupils finished in the bottom eight in three-quarters of the categories and overall came 21st, above only Slovakia and the three Baltic states, despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the union. Professor Jonathan Bradshaw, one of the authors, said: "I think this paints a rather sad picture of children in the EU."
He said the poverty experienced by many British children was the main factor. Figures used in the study show the UK has the highest proportion of children living in jobless households in the EU.
Education was one of the UK's few bright spots coming fourth out of 20 on attainment according to the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) figures. But even this is undermined, as the Department for Education and Skills admitted in 2004, because low response rates from schools make the data unreliable. On the other two education sub-categories - participation, and pupils' employment chances - the UK finished 13th and second from last respectively.
Figures for well-being at school were based on a World Health Organisation survey in 20012 which asked whether young people felt pressured by school work and whether they liked school a lot.
When the two measures were combined the UK trailed behind every country, except Lithuania, Poland, Finland and Estonia.
The study placed the UK third bottom out of 25 on health and fourth from bottom on the safety of pupils and level of risk they faced.
UK pupils fared best on housing, coming first, and worst on the relationships category where they were placed last. Figures used by the study showed the UK had the highest rate of step families. But, contrary to newspaper reports, the researchers said there was no connection between family break-ups and "overall child well-being".
"An Index of Child Well-Being in the European Union" by Jonathan Bradshaw, Petra Hoelscher and Dominic Richardson is published in the Social Indicators journal
'SAD PICTURE' OF THE UK
* 44 per cent of pupils have been in a fight in the past year - the seventh highest rate in the EU's 25 states * 16 per cent of 13 to 15-year-olds are overweight, higher than every EU state except Spain and Greece
* Only 43 per cent of under-18s find their peers kind and helpful - the lowest in the EU
* Only 27 per cent eat fruit every day, 15th in the EU
* 17 per cent live in jobless households - the highest in the EU
* 38 per cent had used cannabis. Only Ireland and the Czech Republic had higher rates
* 27 per cent had been drunk 20 times or more, behind only Ireland and Denmark
* 38 per cent of 15-year-olds had had sex - the highest rate in the EU.