The two-year project carried out by the University of Glasgow and funded by Cancer Research UK took a sample of 1,717 young adults aged 16-24 from the latest Scottish Health Surveys.
Information on economic activity in the last week was used to determine the 17% of participants who fell into the Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) category.
Further data on whether respondents had been seeking employment within the last four weeks and their availability to work within the next two weeks allowed NEETs to be identified as unemployed or economically inactive – for instance school leavers.
The results from the study found that NEETS were ‘significantly more likely to be current smokers, not participate in sport and have an unhealthy Body Mass Index (BMI).
Unemployment at younger ages has also been demonstrated to have immediate adverse effects on health including increased rates of poorer mental
wellbeing, depression and suicidal behaviours amongst those who are NEET.
Catherine Stewart lead researcher on the study, said: “This works highlights that young people who fall into the Neet category are at an increased risk of participating in cancer-related behaviours and policymakers should be aware that there are differences in terms of participating in these behaviours.
“So when they are rolling out interventions they need to be aware that they can’t just treat all Neets the same.
“Our study showed that Neets were likely to be from more deprived backgrounds, so they were more likely to have poorer education, were receiving means-tested benefits and have lower household income than non Neets.
“So this suggests that Neets were from more socially-disadvantaged backgrounds.”
Gregor McNie, Cancer Research UK’s senior public affairs manager in Scotland, said: “This study adds to the weight of evidence that people from certain disadvantaged groups, including those who are unemployed, are more likely to have less healthy behaviour that could lead to cancer.
“After smoking, carrying excess weight is the second biggest single preventable cause of cancer. The Scottish Government could make a big difference to people’s health by restricting price promotions in supermarkets. Sugary drinks and snacks are more likely to be discounted than healthier foods. People are attracted to these price promotions and it’s setting them up for a lifetime of ill-health.”
Scottish Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar said: “This is an alarming finding that reveals Scotland now has a forgotten generation of youngsters who are storing up major health problems for later in life.
“Young people should never be consigned to the scrap-heap and left without the vital opportunities to improve their circumstances, but we can see that this is happening to more and more young Scots.
“The crisis has been exasperated by the SNP’s decision to cut £1.5billion from local services since 2011, including education, cutting off opportunities for far too many young people.
“Scottish Labour has a proud record of improving public health. When we were in government we introduced one of the world’s first bans on smoking in public. But the next health challenge facing Scotland is obesity.
“We know Nationalist ministers have cut funding to tackle childhood obesity by over £100,000 between 2012 and 2016, so we know more needs to be done.
“We have also seen the SNP miss the cancer treatment standard for over three years now. That is thousands of patients and their families let down.
“Cancer remains Scotland’s biggest killer. We need an urgent response from the Government. Warm words are simply not enough.
“After a decade of obsessing about independence the Nationalists are only offering sticking plaster solutions to Scotland’s health problems.
“Scottish Labour believes there needs to be a new focus on reversing the worrying trend in health inequalities, and that starts with investing in our public services.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Our ‘Beating Cancer: Ambition and Action’ strategy and the accompanying £100 million investment over 5 years, serves as a blueprint for the future of cancer services in Scotland, improving the prevention, detection, diagnosis, treatment, aftercare and ultimately the survival, of people affected by cancer.
“We’re committed to consulting on the development of our new Diet and Obesity Strategy which will be brought forward in 2017. We have also introduced a 2034 tobacco-free target as part of a tobacco strategy, reflecting the fact that smoking rates in Scotland are declining, including among young people.”
A version of the study appears in BMC Journal.