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  • Children's Health and the Environment - Risk and Health-Promoting Factors


Children's Health and the Environment - Risk and Health-Promoting Factors

Published Updated

The aim of this report is to present factors that may affect children and adolescents’ health and environment. The following conditions are described: adolescence and living conditions, injuries and accidents, physical environmental factors, obesity and health-related behaviours.

Rapportforside barn og miljø.jpg

The aim of this report is to present factors that may affect children and adolescents’ health and environment. The following conditions are described: adolescence and living conditions, injuries and accidents, physical environmental factors, obesity and health-related behaviours.

About this publication

  • Year: May 2016
  • By: Norwegian Institute of Public Health
  • ISBN: 978-82-8082-730-2
  • ISBN (digital): 978-82-8082-731-9


Children and adolescents are defined by Statistics Norway (SSB) as aged under 18 years. In this report we present some data for young adults up to 29 years of age, but this will vary depending on data sources and topics. Over a fifth of inhabitants in Norway are children and adolescents aged under 18 years, a total of 22 per cent of the population. As of January 1st 2016 there were 1,127,000 children and adolescents aged under 18 years in Norway. 

When compared internationally, Norwegian children and adolescents have good health and environmental conditions but we still face challenges in several areas. In particular, many factors vary with parental income and education, such as obesity, physical environment, diet and the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs. Compared with high-income families, several low-income families live in houses with noise problems (9 and 14 per cent, respectively). In particular, noise and air pollution are a problem in larger cities. 

Internationally, socioeconomic status has been reported to influence injuries and accidents and there is reason to believe this also applies to Norway, even though there is a lack of studies in this area. 

In several areas, like violence and abuse, hazardous substances, noise and studies on immigrant health and the environment (both children and adults), we lack good, updated data. During 2016 we are expecting newer data about diet, overweight and obesity, among others.

Living conditions

Just below nine per cent of all children aged under 18 years belonged to a household with persistent low income in 2013. The family's financial situation is very important for children and adolescents’ health and welfare. Immigrant children are strongly overrepresented in the low-income group. 

Young disabled people aged 18 to 29 years accounted for 1.6 per cent of the population. In ten years, the proportion of young disabled has increased.


Social support from friends, family and others protects against mental and physical health problems. Most adolescents in 8th to 10th grade have at least one close friend, but almost one in ten does not. 

Many children have unsafe periods during childhood. About ten per cent have experienced serious conflicts with violence from parents. Three per cent of children experience alcohol abuse and 10 per cent experience severe mental illness in parents. The number of children under the care of child welfare services has stabilised at about 45,000 per year but there has been a slight increase in the proportion that get help by placement outside the home. 

It is estimated that five to fifteen infants are severely harmed by shaking (Shaken Baby Syndrome) every year and that about five of them die from their injuries. 

Children, who attend high quality child care, often have better language and better social adjustment than those who are at home or in other child care facilities. In terms of education level of child care personnel, Norway lies behind several other European countries. 

Most pupils enjoy school but about 1 in 20 reports that they are bullied several times a week. 

On average, almost 1 in 4 students do not complete high school. The proportion is higher among students whose parents have little education compared to students whose parents have higher education.

Injuries and accidents

The number of accidental deaths has decreased significantly in the period after 1950, but accidents are still the main cause of death among children and adolescents in Norway. About 50 children and adolescents aged under 20 years die from accidents annually. That is about 25 per cent of deaths in this age group.

Approximately 166,500 children and adolescents are treated each year for major or minor injuries by a doctor or in hospital.

Diet and physical activity

Most Norwegian infants are breastfed for a shorter or longer time and there are few who never receive breast milk during the first year.

Many children and adolescents eat too little fruit and vegetables, and it seems that many young people also have insufficient vitamin D status. The trend concerning added sugar is moving in the right direction but many children and adolescents still consume too many sweets and beverages with added sugar.

Most six-year-olds meet the recommendations for moderate and intense physical activity daily and weekly, but only 50 per cent of 15-year-olds do the same. Children and adolescents in all age groups spend too much time sitting during the day.

Overweight and obesity

The percentage of overweight children seems to have increased in the period from 1970s until the 2000s. Over the past decade, there was only a small change in the proportion of overweight and obese eight-year-olds, but there seems to have been an increase among youths. Parental socioeconomic status is important for overweight and obesity in children and adolescents.

Tobacco, alcohol and drugs

The number of young smokers has fallen drastically in recent years. Although it appears that the use of snus has replaced smoking to some extent, the results of studies into tobacco use suggests that the use of snus is decreasing, especially among boys.

The number of young alcohol consumers has also decreased over the years. However, many adolescents still consume alcohol, especially in their late teens. Adolescents  in Norway also drink more seldom, compared with young people in Europe.

In the age group around 15 years, there has also been a decline in the use of hashish and marijuana in the past decade. 

Parental socioeconomic status is related to child and adolescent diet, physical activity, alcohol, drugs and tobacco habits.

The physical environment

Access to clean water is important for young children’s health, in particular. Drinking water in Norway is of high quality compared to many other countries, but 11 per cent of the Norwegian population still receives water from a private well or small waterworks without regular quality control.

In several Norwegian cities, air pollution is at a level that can cause health effects. Children and adolescents with asthma are especially sensitive to air pollution. Air pollution can also have adverse effects in children with diabetes and obesity.

The proportion of children and youths who are exposed to harmful noise at home is reduced, but noise is socially skewed. Noise is significant for health, well-being and learning. In Oslo, there are a considerable number of schools and child care centres with noise levels above the recommended limits. Road and rail traffic are the main sources of noise.

Over the past decade, there has been a decline in the use of hormone-disrupting and allergenic substances, and the same applies to substances that can cause reproductive damage and/or damage to the genetic material. This will be beneficial for children and youths, because the risk for health damage is greatest during growth and development. However, there has been little change in the use of hazardous substances with long lasting effects.