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BMC Cancer. 2017 Mar 2;17(1):165. doi: 10.1186/s12885-017-3157-0.

Cancer-related health behaviours of young people not in education, employment or training ('NEET'): a cross-sectional study.

Author information

MRC/CSO Social & Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, Top Floor, 200 Renfield Street, Glasgow, G2 3QB, UK.
Northern Institute for Cancer Research, Newcastle University, Framlington Place, Newcastle, NE2 4HH, UK.
Health & Lifestyles Research Unit, Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Queen Mary University of London, 2 Stayner's Road, London, E1 4AH, UK.
Centre for Public Health, School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, Queen's University Belfast, Institute of Clinical Sciences B, Royal Victoria Hospital Site, Grosvenor Road, Belfast, BT12 6BJ, UK.



Links between participating in unhealthy behaviours, e.g. smoking, and an increased risk of developing some cancers are well established. Unemployed adults are more likely to participate in cancer-related health behaviours than their employed counterparts. However, evidence of whether this is true in young adults not in education, employment or training (NEET) compared to their 'non-NEET' peers is either limited or inconclusive. Using cross-sectional health data from across the UK, this study aims to investigate whether participation in cancer-related health behaviours varies by NEET status.


Data for 16-24 year olds were extracted from the 2010-12 Health Surveys for England (HSE) and Scottish Health Surveys (SHeS). Information on economic activity in the last week was used to determine NEET status. Data on whether respondents had been seeking employment within the last four weeks and availability to start within the next two weeks allowed NEETs to be further identified as unemployed (UE) or economically inactive (EI). Logistic regression modelled the effect of being NEET on odds of being a current smoker; heavy drinker; not participating in sport; having eaten less than five portions of fruit or vegetables the day before survey interview and having an unhealthy body mass index (BMI). Analyses were performed before and after exclusion of EI NEETs.


Data were extracted for 4272 individuals, of which 715 (17%) were defined as NEET with 371 (52%) and 342 (48%) further classified as UE and EI respectively. Two NEETs could not be further defined as UE or EI due to missing information. Relative to non-NEETs, NEETs were significantly more likely to be current smokers, not participate in sport and have an 'unhealthy' BMI. These results held after adjustment for socio-demographic characteristics both before and after exclusion of EI NEETs. Before exclusion of EI NEETs, NEETs were significantly less likely to be heavy drinkers than non-NEETs. There was no significant difference in likelihood of heavy drinking between NEETs and non-NEETs when excluding EI NEETs.


NEETs were generally at an increased risk of participating in cancer-related health behaviours than non-NEETs. As the likelihood of becoming NEET is greater in socioeconomically-disadvantaged groups, interventions to discourage unhealthy behaviours in NEETs may contribute to a reduction in health inequalities.


Alcohol; BMI; Cancer; Exercise; Health behaviours; Lifestyle; NEET; Smoking; Unemployed; Young adults

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