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June 18, 2024
by Patricia Tomasi

Do Coastal Communities Affect Teen Health?

June 18, 2024 08:00 by Patricia Tomasi  [About the Author]

A new study published in Science Direct looked at residence in coastal communities in adolescence and health in young adulthood.

The study is about whether teenagers living in coastal communities of England had worse health up to 11 years later, than their peers inland,” study author Emily T. Murray told us. “We didn’t just look at one measure of health, but five measures that would give a good idea of a young person’s overall health: self-rated health, whether they had a disability, whether they were mentally distressed and how they rated their ability to function physically and mentally.”

Murray had thought that she would find that coastal community residence as a teenager would be associated with worse levels of health, compared to inland teenagers, across all five of the health measures. This is because Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer of England, published a report in 2021 showing that coastal communities have some of the worst health in England across a whole spectrum of health measures. 

“I was introduced to this research area by a colleague at University College London, Professor Avril Keating, who is Director of the Centre for Global Youth at the UCL Institute of Education,” Murray told us. “She made me aware of the CMO report and a small amount of qualitative work that had shown how severely limited educational and employment opportunities are for young people in coastal communities. There is lots of research showing that education and employment are big predictors of health, so I was curious if health would be worse in coastal communities as well.”

The research team used a data set that interviews households from across England every year since 2009. In this data set, they have a special survey for 10 to 15-year-olds, which the researchers used to assign each teenager who filled out a survey to whether they lived in a coastal community or not. Then they followed their surveys forward in time to 2020 to see what their health was like as young adults. The researchers also accounted for other things about the teenagers - their age, gender, household income, ethnicity and housing – that might explain health differences.

“We found that when we initially just adjusted for age when health was measured, only two of the health measures were related to teenage coastal community residence: self-rated health and long-standing impairment, illness, or disability,” Murray told us. “It was only when we looked at whether community was also deprived, that the true story came into focus. That it was only the teenagers living in the most deprived coastal communities who had worse health than their equally deprived peers inland. There was no difference in health in the less deprived coastal compared to inland communities. And that the differences in health were largest for mental, rather than, physical health.”

The research team believes the results are surprising, because why would you expect there to be a coastal excess of worse health in equally deprived areas, but one is coastal and the other inland? There are other studies that have shown that adults who live or visit the coastal rate their health higher than people who live inland, so these results say the opposite.

“The next steps are to investigate the reasons for why this excess coastal health effect may be happening,” Murray told us. I am currently exploring whether there are other qualities of deprived coastal places "that could explain these findings. We know that a lot of deprived coastal communities have struggled economically for a long time and that young people are less likely to obtain degrees in coastal communities. These are two of a whole host of potential explanations.”

Whatever the explanation for why young people in deprived coastal communities have worse health than their inland peers, the fact of the matter is that they do, Murray explained. The findings from this study should be used to argue that if we want to level up health, more healthcare resources should be allocated to the coast to make sure these young people get the treatment and support they need to have healthier and happier lives. 


About the Author

Patricia Tomasi

Patricia Tomasi is a mom, maternal mental health advocate, journalist, and speaker. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post Canada, focusing primarily on maternal mental health after suffering from severe postpartum anxiety twice. You can find her Huffington Post biography here. Patricia is also a Patient Expert Advisor for the North American-based, Maternal Mental Health Research Collective and is the founder of the online peer support group - Facebook Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Group - with over 1500 members worldwide. Blog:

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