In Australia, children generally live longer than their parents, because medical science is improving all the time and prolonging our lives. But now many people are saying (it has almost become a cliche) that the current generation of children will likely be the first not to outlive their parents.
A recent report from the government-run Australian Temperament Project outlines some good and bad news about the generation now in their twenties. The study has tracked 2,400 children from birth to their mid twenties and has recently found that 80% of them appear to be doing well - generally studying or working, and often in committed relationships.
However 40% were showing signs of problems such as depression (16%), anxiety (16%), antisocial behaviour (10%) and/or illicit substance abuse (about 15%), with some having multiple problems. Since the late teens, depression and anxiety have declined but substance abuse has increased.
About 20% drink alcohol in unhealthy amounts, and 7% are considered to be "risky" drivers. Of interest is the fact that risky drivers can be detected from mid-childhood, and risky driving is commonly associated with anti-social behaviour, substance abuse and difficulties at school.
Earlier data from the study shows that most parents and teenagers relate well, although only about half communicate well. However it seems that the teens who didn't relate well with their parents are much more likely to be at risk in late teens and mid twenties.
Obesity is a growing problem among Australia's children. Australia has been found to be the fattest country on earth, with our obesity levels now surpassing those of the US. A quarter of children are classified as "overweight" with children from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds most likely to be obese. And the rates are rising fast.
According to Prof Fiona Stanley, we're eating more and moving less, leading to weight gain and associated health problems such as type 2 diabetes, which in turn can lead to depression and (ironically) eating disorders. She advocates research to gain a better understanding of vulnerable populations, and innovative solutions that go beyond telling people to eat less - perhaps teaching parents quick and cheap alternatives to fast food, and provision of more playgrounds and open space.
It seems that the quality of parenting and the level of social disadvantage of the family are major causes of the problems being experienced by both children and young adults, but changing this may require the rest of us to accept that more taxes need to be spent in these areas to address potential problems before they appear.