Young People and the SDGs – should we care?

The Sustainable Development Goals (2015-2030) provide one of the most exciting opportunities to ensure a better and sustainable world for people and planet, today and into the future.

Young people must be at the heart of the SDGs and take an active part in creating National Action Plans in their countries in partnership with government and civil society organisations. Young people must be involved in monitoring and evaluating achievements and challenges that the SDGs bring and young people must have a role educating, empowering and working with their peers at local, national, European and global levels.

In all of this, we need to remember that young people are not all the same. They are a diverse group of people with their own distinct challenges and life opportunities. We must ensure that no young person is left behind whether they are young girls, young LGBTQI, migrants, refugees, young people with disabilities, young people living in poverty or living with HIV or AIDS, whether they live in peaceful or conflict areas, whether they live in poor or wealthy societies. Programmes and possibilities must be in place through the SDGs to support and empower all young people in all of their diversity.

Why should young people and society care about the SDGs and the world in which they live?

  • There are 7 billion people plus living on the planet today
  • 1.8 billion are young people aged 10-24 years– the largest ever youth population
  • 90% of adolescents live in developing countries
  • More than 500 million young people aged 15-24 live on less than $2 a day
  • Some 74 million young people are unemployed and more than 600 million jobs need to be generated globally by 2030
  • Countries, societies, economies and people are interconnected and linked through trade, aid, environment, food, health, education, migration, partnerships, etc- the problems/solutions/issues in one country can affect another

For the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI), we see the SDGs as providing an overarching framework, bringing together what is happening at local, national, European and global levels. The SDGs link in with all of NYCI’s work be it in areas of youth health and well-being, development education and global justice, interculturalism, child protection, arts, research, youth advocacy and youth policy, international, media and communications.

SDG3 focuses on good health. The National Youth Health Programme is a partnership between the National Youth Council of Ireland, the Health Service Executive and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the programme aims to provide a broad-based, flexible health promotion / education support and training service to youth organisations and to all those working with young people in youth settings. This work is achieved through the development of programmes and interventions specifically for and with youth organisations throughout the country and the provision of training and support for workers and volunteers who implement these programmes. The work includes:

  • Building the capacity of youth organisations and youth-serving agencies to promote and inform healthy lifestyle behaviour.
  • Developing specific issue based health promotion interventions supported by resource production and trainings.
  • Advocating for the adoption and implementation of evidence-based policies and actions which would promote healthier lifestyle choices and behaviour amongst young people.
  • Influencing national policy in the main arenas dealing with young people’s health.
  • Engaging in public debate on relevant health issues through the media and other channels.

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Among the streams of work undertaken by the Youth Health Programme are:

  • Specialist Certificate in Youth Health Promotion – Encourages, supports and facilitates youth organisations to become effective settings for health
  • Health Quality Mark – encourages and supports organisations to promote, develop and deliver a whole organisational approach to health promotion practice
  • Training – (MindOut; ASIST: Intervening with people at risk of suicide; Connecting with Young Men: Engaging young men in Mental Health and Wellbeing; B4U Decide: Delaying the onset of early sex; Understanding Pornography; Sexual Health Policy; Spirituality and Wellbeing; Moment to Moment; Experiential Based Facilitation Training for Health & Wellbeing; Teen Coaching P.A.U.S.E.: Dealing with Challenging Behaviour
  • Mental Health Promotion
  • National Quality Standards Framework (NQSF) Task Group
  • Connected Communities Project – Building Resilient Youth Communities
  • Resource Development – resources including issues of healthy eating, bullying, substance misuse, mindfulness, relationships and sexuality education
  • Research – health inequalities and young people; health quality mark
  • Support, Signposting & Advice

What is the health situation for young people in Ireland?

  • One third of Ireland’s population is under the age of 25 years, with young people aged between 10 and 24 years representing 18.3% of the total population of 4.59 million
  • Participation in sport or physical exercise is high (71%). However, only 12% of post-primary school children engage in recommended levels of physical activity with girls less likely than boys to meet the physical activity recommendations outlined in The Children’s Sport Participation and Physical Activity Study (CSPPA, 2010)
  • 6% of 13 year olds are obese, and a further 20% are overweight
  • In 2011, around 44,000 young people aged 15-24 years reported having a disability
  • It is estimated that 20% of 16 year olds are weekly drinkers
  • The proportion of children living in consistent poverty in Ireland almost doubled from 6.3 per cent in 2008 to 11.2 per cent in 2014. This equates to 138,000 children, or one in eight
  • In 2013, the suicide rate for young people in Ireland aged 15-19 years was the fourth highest in the EU. The majority of young people who die by suicide have not had any contact with a mental health professional
  • Research indicates a high level of homophobic bullying in schools and this, together with family rejection, has been identified as leading to poor mental health outcomes in later life
  • The cost of healthcare in Ireland is the fourth highest in the EU, and is seen as a barrier for 51% of young people
  • In 2014, 23.9% of young people aged 15-24 years were unemployed (

What do health issues look like from a global perspective?

  • More than 2.6 million young people aged 10 to 24 die each year in the world, mostly due to preventable causes. [WHO, Fact Sheet on Adolescent health, 2015, ]
  • Globally, 81% of adolescents aged 11–17 years were insufficiently physically active in 2010. Adolescent girls were less active than adolescent boys, with 84% versus 78% not meeting the WHO recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity per day. [WHO, 2014,]
  • Worldwide, 7% of all deaths of young people between the ages of 15 and 29 are attributable to alcohol use. [WHO, 2014,]
  • One out of 2 young people who start and continue to smoke will be killed by tobacco-related illness. [WHO, 2014,]
  • In any given year, about 20% of adolescents will experience a mental health problem, most commonly depression or anxiety. [WHO, Fact Sheet on Adolescent health, 2015,]
  • Inadequate facilities at schools force millions of girls around the world to miss class during menstruation. It’s estimated that more than half of schools in low-income countries lack sufficient toilets for girls or are unsafe and unclean. [UNGEI, 2014,]
  • Pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death amongst adolescent girls aged between 15 and 19 in low-income countries. [UNAIDS, All In, 2015, p.9,]
  • Young people aged from 15 to 24 accounted for an estimated 40 per cent of all new HIV infections among adults worldwide in 2011. [WHO Fact sheet on adolescent health, 2015,]

(All stats and more available from:

Tackling health in Ireland through the National Youth Strategy (2015 – 2020)

In 2015, a new National Youth Strategy was launched in Ireland adopting a cross-departmental/ministry approach to tackling issues facing young people in Ireland. The aim of the National Youth Strategy ‘is to enable all young people to realise their maximum potential, by respecting their rights and hearing their voices, while protecting and supporting them as they transition from childhood to adulthood’. There are 5 national outcomes associated with the strategy including:

  • Outcome 1: Active and Healthy, Physical and Mental Well-Being

– Young people enjoy a healthy lifestyle, in particular with regard to their physical, mental and sexual health and well-being

– Young people benefit from involvement in recreational and cultural opportunities including youth work, arts, and sports

  • Outcome 5: Connected, Respected, and Contributing to their World

– Young people are included in society, are environmentally aware, their equality and rights are upheld, their diversity celebrated, and they are empowered to be active global citizens

– Young people’s autonomy is supported, their active citizenship fostered, and their voice strengthened through political, social and civic engagement

The National Youth Strategy outcomes and commitments should improve the health of young people in Ireland. Working together – Government, civil society, and young people, and linking policies and strategies that are already in place with the new SDGs Framework, Ireland could be a global leader in terms of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. There is a lot of work to do but there is huge enthusiasm to do this work and together, it is possible.

What can you do about SDG 3: Good Health?

  1. Know the Goals and make the connections between each of them and your own life/work. You can find more information on the SDGs and suggested activities here:
  2. Help implement the National Youth Strategy which has 5 priority areas including a focus on health and well-being (Outcome 1 and Outcome 5 in particular)
  3. Tell Everyone! Hold workshops or chat in your youth group or at lunchtime about the goals.
  4. Educate yourself about Goal 3 and use the targets and indicators attached to SDG3 to reach your own personal and work goals particularly in reporting to Government and funders. See here: AND
  5. Invest in activities that improve access to youth friendly health services and check out activities that will help reach Goal 3 such as through sport
  6. Learn about and take action to fight harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriages and female genital mutilation/cutting. For example, see:
  7. Check out more youth stats on health and young people via:
  8. Use this poster to question what is happening around a health issue and consider what positive action you might take

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We’re delighted to feature in Development Perspective’s SDGs Challenge as part of Goal 3 which focuses on all aspects of health in the world. Without good health and well-being, everything else is a challenge and a concern.

Valerie Duffy has worked in development education for almost 20 years as Project Manager, facilitator, curriculum and resource developer, writer, and researcher on projects in Ireland, Northern Ireland, the UK, the Euro-Mediterranean region, and Zambia. She has worked in the formal and non-formal education sectors. Valerie facilitated study visits by young people, youth and community workers to Zambia and Cameroon and has experience as a social and community researcher with expertise in the areas of DE, gender, human rights, HIV and AIDS, youth, community, and education.

Valerie is currently working with the National Youth Council of Ireland as Development Education Co-ordinator ( @nycinews and NYCI is involved in Coalition 2030 which is an alliance of leading civil society groups in Ireland working for the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The coalition represents over 100 organisations, working both at home in Ireland and in over 50 countries around the globe. Coalition members include those focusing on children and youth rights, environmental sustainability, humanitarian relief, and education.