One in five children in rich countries lives in relative poverty, according to a UNICEF report published today that put the US and New Zealand among the world’s worst performers for youth well-being. Nearly 13 per cent of children in those countries lack access to sufficient safe and nutritious food, the report said, with that number rising to 20 per cent in the US and UK. “Higher incomes do not automatically lead to improved outcomes for all children, and may indeed deepen inequalities,” said Sarah Cook, director of the UNICEF Innocenti research office that published the study.
“Governments in all countries need to take action to ensure the gaps are reduced and progress is made,” she said. The ‘Report Card’ took into account factors like education, mental health, alcohol abuse, economic opportunities and the environment to rank 41 high-income countries for overall youth well-being. Germany and the Nordic countries topped the list while Romania, Bulgaria and Chile came in at the bottom, with New Zealand and the US in 34th and 37th place respectively.
The US had relatively low scores in terms of poverty, hunger, health, education and inequality. New Zealand performed particularly badly in terms of adolescent mental health, with the highest suicide rate in the world for people aged 15 to 19 — almost three times the average for the countries surveyed.
The number of adolescents reporting mental health problems is increasing in the majority of the countries included in the study, along with the rate of obesity among young people. Even in Japan and Finland, among the best performing countries in the list, around a fifth of 15-year-olds do not reach baseline educational standards, the report said as it called for greater focus on disadvantaged groups.