Life for the young is one big worry

3rd July 1998 at 01:00
With the nation traumatised or just plain brain-dead from the events in France, we turn to the latest health scares - Dolly Parton and the concept of the "cuddle mum".

Teenagers, especially girls, are growing up to be chronic worriers, researchers at Exeter University say. Half are unhappy about personal appearance, one in three is stressed by school work and nearly 40 per cent are concerned about families or friendships.

If that weren't enough, youngsters risk coming into contact with pesticides if they play in their parks with local councils accused of waging chemical warfare. Councils apparently now use more sprays - 600 tons - than any other group except for the likes of Ambridge's mega-rich farmer Brian Aldridge.

But in future kids can look forward to better teeth. The nannying public health minister, Tessa Jowell, is to give health authorities new powers to demand that water companies fluoridate supplies to protect them. Just in time, given the news that alcopops are eroding teenage teeth. The British Dental Journal reports that their high levels of acidity combined with the effects of vomiting due to excessive alcohol consumption causes tooth decay. Charming.

But school meals will be healthier at least in six authorities where genetically modified foods are being removed from the menus. So much for soya, the main culprit. In any case real milk is better for young women, the National Osteoporosis Society says. It is concerned about girls cutting out dairy products in efforts to stay slim which could lead to brittle bones later in life.

One decidedly robust female had her name taken in vain this week. Poor Dolly Parton has been used by Knowsley council on Merseyside to deter teenagers from playing loud music on street corners. A blast of her country and western hits in classes of 14 and 15-year-olds gave them a taste of their own medicine and the cringing kids got the message that not everyone liked their kind of music either.

It's not known if Dolly conveys the same image as Doris, but a survey of 3,000 people found that we closely connect attributes to names. The Women's Psychological Conference in Birmingham university learnt that "Doris" scored least on the grounds of cleverness, attractiveness and class. Francesca was seen as the most sexy, attractive and feminine. Helgas are strong-minded, Lucys are happy and Traceys are weak in the head. Expectant mums please take note.

They should also heed the depressing findings of another piece of research presented to the conference: nearly three-quarters of men believe that pregnant women should not be at work because they cannot cope physically or mentally. In turn, mothers are less likely to want to return to work because of the treatment they're given during pregnancy. Bad news for the Government's plans to encourage single mothers back into the workforce and to expand childcare provision.

And so to the "cuddle mum": doctors in the impoverished inner city area of St Paul's, Bristol, are investing in a novel form of preventative health. Instead of valium, mothers unable to cope with unemployment, poverty and the demands of young children are instead prescribed a "community mother" who can pass on the skills of being a successful parent. Every home should have one and with luck this will lead to a better class of football hooligan.

Diane Spencer

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