Kiwi teens top car death and suicide rates

MICHELLE DUFF
Last updated 12:28 25/04/2012

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Kiwi teens are more likely to die young in car crashes or by suicide than in almost every other developed country.

In a four-part series co-authored by Professor George C Patton of the University of Melbourne, the medical journal The Lancet analyses the biggest risks to young people globally.

New Zealand had the second highest overall mortality rate and the highest suicide rate in those aged 10-24 years among developed countries.

A league table of road deaths showed only the United States had more young women die on the road, while New Zealand had the fourth highest rate of road deaths among young men behind the US, Greece and Portugal.

The United States had the highest overall adolescent mortality rate, because of its high rate of violent deaths and deaths due to road trauma.

University of Otago department of psychological medicine Professor David Fergusson said while the reasons were not fully understood, the high rate of motor vehicle accidents could reflect the young driving age of 16 in New Zealand, giving adolescents more exposure to risk.

The New Zealand Transport Agency tightened the practical driving testing regime this year, with the intention of improving the safety and skills of young drivers.

The reasons for higher youth suicide rates were largely unknown, but could be alcohol-related, Mr Fergusson said.

"What distinguishes some of the countries with high youth suicide rate (NZ, Finland, Ireland) is that these are all small liberal democracies with high rates of alcohol consumption."

The study's authors summarised that the 1.8 billion adolescents in the world today face more challenges than past generations, with more exposure to harmful alcohol consumption, sexually transmitted diseases, and other health risks. Challenges such as social media posed new risks.

The health status of adolescents aged 10 - 24 had improved far less than the health of children under 10 in the past five decades.

While the explosion in social media such as Facebook and Twitter had good points, it also gave rise to issues like cyber-bullying and "sexting," or sending explicit images by mobile phone.

The best ways for countries to improve adolescent health are by taking steps to improve access to education and employment and reducing the risk of transport-related injury, the study said.

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- The Dominion Post

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