The health of Ontario's youth

Since the 1990s, governments and health researchers across Canada are increasingly using a positive youth development approach to understand and promote young people’s health. The McCreary Centre Society in British Columbia is a leader in this shift.  McCreary’s Adolescent Health Survey (AHS) asks young people about health-promoting and health-compromising behaviours as well as about the protective and risk factors in their lives.

To the best of our knowledge, information about protective and risk factors has not yet been integrated into research on young people’s health status and behaviour in Ontario. However, Ontario studies confirm that mental health, substance misuse, and tobacco use affect youth across the province.

Highlights from the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) - Grade 7-12 Student Responses

Mental health, 2011:

  • 14% of students reported poor mental health.
  • One third of students (33%) reported elevated psychological distress, including depressed mood, anxiety, and problems with social functioning.
  • Reports of poor mental health and psychological distress significantly increased with grade level.
  • Externalizing behaviours such as delinquency, violence, and bullying continued to be a problem. For example, over one quarter (29%) of students report being bullied at school.
  • 1 in 5 (22%) students reported to have been cyber-bullied. (bullied or picked on through the internet).
  • 1 in 10 (10%) students reported having had serious thoughts about suicide with 3% reporting a suicide attempt.

Substance use, 2011:

  • Alcohol is the most commonly used substance. More than half (54.9%) of students reported using alcohol in the last year.
  • Just over one-fifth (22%) of students reported binge drinking in the past month.
  • Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit substance. A little more that one-fifth (22%) of students reported using cannabis in the last year.
  • 1 in 7 students (14%) reported using prescription opioid pain relievers for non-medical purposes in the last year.
  • Alcohol and drug use was more likely to occur as grade level increased with the exception of inhalants which significantly decreased with grade (12% among 7th graders to about 4% among students in older grades.)
  • Use of cannabis and non-medical prescription drug use for all grades —including opioid pain relievers—was less in 2011 than in 2009.
  • Almost 9% of students in Ontario reported both hazardous/harmful drinking and elevated psychological distress. There is significant variation by grade, peaking in 12th grade at 16%.

Tobacco use, 2011:

  • Although youth smoking has decreased over the decades, 1 in every 11 Ontario students (8.7%) reported smoking in the past year while 1 in every 20 students (5%) reported having used smokeless tobacco.
  • 1 in every 25 students (4%) reported that they smoke one or more cigarettes a day.
  • Tobacco use increases with grade level. Less than 3% of grade seven and eight students reported smoking in the past year while 14% of grade 11 and 12 students did. Similarly, 7% of students in grades 10 through 12 had used smokeless tobacco in the past year compared with 1% of younger students.

Documents sourced in this section can be found here.