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British children 'among Europe's unhappiest and unhealthiest'
By LAURA CLARK
British children are among the unhappiest and unhealthiest in Europe, according to a new league table.
Research comparing children's wellbeing across 25 countries paints a picture of dysfunctional British families failing to talk to each other or eat together.
Youngsters in Britain are most likely to come from broken homes and have among the poorest relationships with their parents and friends.
Young Britons also have some of the worst eating habits and freely admit binge-drinking, taking drugs and indulging in underage sex.
An authorititative study ranked British youngsters 21st out of the 25 EU countries on a scale of "child wellbeing".
Children were worse off only in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Slovakia.
The findings provoked renewed concern over the impact of divorce and family breakdown and sparked demands for ministers to do more to tackle the breakdown of the traditional family.
The York University study found that British youngsters were most likely to live in family set-ups linked with reduced success at school and beyond.
"There is substantial evidence that children in single parent as well as in step families tend to have worse outcomes than peers living with both biological parents" it said.
The researchers studied 51 different indicators of child wellbeing based on surveys and statistics covering the 25 EU nations.
It found many children in Britain are barely on speaking terms with their parents. Just 60 per cent spoke to their parents several times a week while only 67 per cent sat at the table to eat with their parents - the lowest proportion in Europe.
Many were unhappy at school and felt "pressured" while fewer than half of youngsters aged between 11 and 15 regarded their friends as "kind and helpful".
Meanwhile British children were among the fattest and the least likely to eat fruit or have breakfast.
Sixteen per cent were classed as too big, the fourth highest figure in Europe.
Only 27 per cent of youngsters aged between 11 and 15 ate fruit on a daily basis and just over half arrived at school having eaten breakfast.
Meanwhile British children were more likely than peers in any other nation to resort to "risky behaviour".
They were found to be most promiscuous, with more than a third admitting having sex by the age of 15.
And more than a quarter of 15-year-olds had been drunk 20 times or more, the second highest in Europe, while 38 per cent had used cannabis.
Youngsters in Britain also have greater experience of bullying and fighting at school than peers in most other nations.
The study concluded: "There is some relationship between the ranking of child well-being and the general level of wealth of a country however this does not explain the presence of Spain and Slovenia in the top third of the figure, or the presence of the United Kingdom towards the bottom of the league table."
Professor Jonathan Bradshaw, co-author, said: "It paints a very sad picture of children in Britain. They are marginalised by society and treated like second-class citizens."
Government adviser Lord Layard has already announced an inquiry into the wellbeing of British children.
He has admitted rising affluence has done nothing to improve children's lives and will study why toys, technology and other material trapping do not bring happiness.
The latest findings prompted the Civitas think-tank to accuse the Government of failing to tackle the "root causes" of family breakdown.
Anastasia de Waal, head of family and education, said: "It is a worrying indictment of Government policy that a highly developed country such as Britain is ranking as poorly on child well-being as the former eastern bloc countries."
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