A recent survey by Auckland University has had some positive results in relation to NZ youth.

Teen drinking has almost halved since 2001, drink-driving is down a third, regular marijuana use is at half its past levels and smoking is on the fade at a tiny 4.5 per cent. Promiscuity is declining with under 20 per cent currently sexually active, and violence and fighting have dropped.

Wow! With youth usually associated with bad news, these statistics are really nice to hear. But why the change? According to principal investigator Dr Terryann Clark, it seems that the public health messages are actually getting through.

A recent Unicef survey of 29 affluent nations found that fewer young people were using alcohol, tobacco and marijuana, but New Zealand’s dramatic drops could be due to the fact of it being such a small country.

These positive findings are somewhat blighted though, by the epidemic levels of deliberate self-harming which has become “almost fashionable.” This is quite interesting and at first doesn’t seem to make sense. Why are there such high levels of stress and depression, when health is popular enough to quell traditional teenage pressures like smoking and drinking?

Personally, I think that this is due to image anxieties – while it’s so great that health is highly considered, this also means that young people feel the need to look a certain way. It’s almost like high school peer pressure has transformed from being about “what you do” to “what you look like.”

Either way, this time there’s more positive than negative to focus on – so good on you New Zealand!

Tamara El-Rahi is an associate editor of MercatorNet. A Journalism graduate from the University of Technology Sydney, she lives in Australia with her husband and two daughters.