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Children's lives are improving, mostly

Girls are far more likely than boys to carry on in education after leaving school, according to a report on the health of Scotland's children, published today.

Girls are far more likely than boys to carry on in education after leaving school, according to a report on the health of Scotland's children, published today.

It shows that 84 per cent of 15-year-old girls aspire to university or further education, compared with 54 per cent of boys at that age.

The figures emerge in the report for a World Health Organisation study that takes place every four years, and in which Scotland is one of 43 countries involved.

But the report shows that school becomes a more unpleasant environment as pupils get older: they like school less; confidence in their own performance decreases; stress about schoolwork increases (with girls particularly vulnerable); and classmates are seen as less helpful.

Overall, the report - which also looks at family life and peer relationships - finds wellbeing of children in Scotland has increased over the past 20 years (the period in which it has been part of the study).

Long-term improvements include an increase in emotional wellbeing, happiness and confidence, and young people feel less helpless. However, there has been no change in levels of bullying and fighting since 1990.

More children get sex education, and the number of 15-year-olds who report having had sex - nearly a third - remains stable. Oral health has improved, but rates of smoking and drinking are higher than in 1990, although both have declined since 1998.

Shorter-term improvements, between 2002 and 2006, include an increase in fruit and vegetable consumption and decrease in snacking on crisps and sweets; fewer pupils feel stressed about schoolwork; more children are taking at least an hour a day of moderate to vigorous activity; television viewing has decreased; experimental and heavy use of cannabis has decreased; and use of condoms has increased.

The Health Behaviour in School-aged Children report, based on a sample of 6,000 pupils in P7, S2 and S4 in 2006, was produced by Edinburgh University with funding from NHS Scotland.

Principal investigator Candace Currie said: "Previous HBSC surveys have flagged up that certain aspects of adolescent health in Scotland are less favourable than in other countries, including eating habits and emotional wellbeing. Therefore, to see improvements in these is a very positive sign."

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