Enforced Common Sense: How Iceland keeps its Teens healthy

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In Iceland, teenage smoking, drinking and drug use have been radically cut in the past 20 years. How did they do it, and why won’t other countries follow suit?

It’s a little before three on a sunny Friday afternoon and Laugardalur Park, near central Reykjavik, looks practically deserted. There’s an occasional adult with a pushchair, but the park’s surrounded by apartment blocks and houses, and school’s out – so where are all the kids?

Walking with me are Gudberg Jónsson, a local psychologist, and Harvey Milkman, an American psychology professor who teaches for part of the year at Reykjavik University. Twenty years ago, says Gudberg, Icelandic teens were among the heaviest-drinking youths in Europe. “You couldn’t walk the streets in downtown Reykjavik on a Friday night because it felt unsafe,” adds Milkman. “There were hordes of teenagers getting in-your-face drunk.”

We approach a large building. “And here we have the indoor skating,” says Gudberg. A couple of minutes ago, we passed two halls dedicated to badminton and ping pong. Here in the park, there’s also an athletics track, a geothermally heated swimming pool and – at last – some visible kids, excitedly playing football on an artificial pitch.

Young people aren’t hanging out in the park right now, Gudberg explains, because they’re in after-school classes in these facilities, or in clubs for music, dance or art. Or they might be on outings with their parents.

Today, Iceland tops the European table for the cleanest-living teens. The percentage of 15- and 16-year-olds who had been drunk in the previous month plummeted from 42 per cent in 1998 to 5 per cent in 2016. The percentage who have ever used cannabis is down from 17 per cent to 7 per cent. Those smoking cigarettes every day fell from 23 per cent to just 3 per cent.

The way the country has achieved this turnaround has been both radical and evidence-based, but it has relied a lot on what might be termed enforced common sense. “This is the most remarkably intense and profound study of stress in the lives of teenagers that I have ever seen,” says Milkman. “I’m just so impressed by how well it is working.”

If it was adopted in other countries, Milkman argues, the Icelandic model could benefit the general psychological and physical wellbeing of millions of kids, not to mention the coffers of healthcare agencies and broader society. It’s a big if.

Read on…

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An American Trans Life

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Many people wouldn’t be surprised to learn that transgender people experience discrimination in the United States (see: North Carolina’s HB2), but now there’s a 300-page report to back up that gut feeling, and the levels of inequality are far more than many people would expect.

The study, released by the National Center for Transgender Equality, shows that transgender people face a shocking amount of discrimination. The study involved a survey of almost 28,000 people across the U.S. The researchers found devastating levels of discrimination in every aspect of life, from work, family, housing and general safety.

“The findings reveal disturbing patterns of mistreatment and discrimination and startling disparities between transgender people in the survey and the U.S. population when it comes to the most basic elements of life, such as finding a job, having a place to live, accessing medical care, and enjoying the support of family and community,” the researchers said.

Family Life and Support

Respondents reported varying levels of support from family members. 60% of the respondents who were out to their families said their families were supportive of their gender identity. 18% said their family was unsupportive and the remainder said their family was neutral.

For transgender people, family support can have a significant impact on the rest of their lives. Those with supportive families were less likely to experience other forms of discrimination and hardship or to experience them to a lesser extent. Those with supportive families were almost 20% less likely to experience homelessness and less likely to attempt suicide.

Unfortunately, not all families are supportive. One in ten transgender people reported that a family member was violent toward them for being trans and 8% were kicked out of the house by their family. Another 10% ran away from home.

Mistreatment in School

Discrimination against transgender people starts at an early age. Almost 80% of people who were openly or believed to be transgender while in school experienced mistreatment. More than half experienced verbal harassment, a quarter experienced physical assault and 13% were sexually assaulted. 17% of transgender K-12 students left a school because the experienced severe mistreatment.

Workplace Discrimination

Discrimination against trans people doesn’t end when they get their diploma. In fact, discrimination at work can be so serious for them that many end up unemployed and even homeless. For example, 13% of the respondents had lost a job because they were transgender and 19% had been fired, denied a promotion or not been hired for a job because of their gender identity. In the past year, 15% said their were verbally harassed or physically or sexually assaulted while at work because they were transgender.

Experiences in Bathrooms

The survey took place before North Carolina’s discriminatory bathroom bill, HB2, was legalized. And yet, transgender people already faced discrimination and violence in public restrooms so great that 59% avoided them altogether. As a result, they often experienced urinary tract infections, kidney infections or other kidney-related issues. About one-third of respondents limited what they ate and drank during the day so they wouldn’t have to use public restrooms.

9% said they’d been refused access to a public bathroom because of their gender identity and 12% reported being verbally, physically or sexually assaulted in a public bathroom. Despite what North Carolina’s lawmakers believe, it’s trans people who are in danger in public restrooms.

Harassment, Violence & Homicide

The survey found that transgender people face horrific levels of  harassment, sexual assault and physical violence. Almost half of respondents had been sexually assaulted in their lifetime, with 10% reporting they’d been sexually assaulted in the year prior to the survey. More than half had experienced intimate partner violence. In the past year, almost half had been verbally harassed for being transgender and 9% had been physically assaulted. These experiences were even more common for respondents who had experienced homelessness or who had engaged in sex work.

While not included in the research, transgender people also face alarming rates of homicide, with black transwomen being specifically targeted. According to Mic, if everyone faced the same risk of murder as a black transwoman, the murder rate would increase from 15,696 to 120,087 in the Unites States.

Of all the transgender murders in the U.S. between 2013-2015, not one was prosecuted and none were reported as hate crimes. To make sure these lost trans lives are not forgotten, Mic created a database called “Unerased” which includes over one hundred murdered trans people.

via care2