'Stark inequalities in child health' highlighted in new report

Children’s health in the UK is at risk, with child death rates, obesity and ill-health higher than in much of Europe, according to a report published today. 

The State of Child Health report, from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said poverty left children from deprived backgrounds experiencing far worse health compared with those living in the most affluent families. The college found:
  • Infant mortality is more than twice as high in the most deprived areas compared with the most affluent.
  • In England’s most deprived areas, 40% of children were overweight or obese in the last year, compared to 27% in the most affluent.
  • Across the UK, 46% of mothers in the most deprived areas breastfed compared with 65% in the most affluent areas. (Breastfeeding has substantial health benefits for both mothers and babies).

Compiled by child health experts, with input from children and young people themselves, the report provides clear recommendations to improve child health. These include calling for each UK Government to develop a child health and wellbeing strategy, coordinated, implemented and evaluated across the nation.

The report also highlights the need for a broadcasting ban on adverts for high fat, sugar and salt foods before 9pm, support for breastfeeding and minimum unit pricing of alcohol. In addition, the college want the public smoking ban extended to schools, playgrounds and hospitals.

James Cashmore, Director of Soil Association's Food for Life said: “We welcome the report’s call for a much more comprehensive and joined up approach to child health and wellbeing. Despite having a health system which is the envy of the world, health of children in the UK lags behind, and the gap between rich and poor is widening. The reason for this disparity is clear: the wider determinants of children’s health are not being addressed in a joined-up way by government. Right now, the promised “radical upgrade” in prevention envisaged in the NHS 5-year Forward View is stumbling in the face of £200m of in-year cuts in local authority Public Health budgets – hardly an auspicious start to tackling the root causes of our nation’s future health. The recent Childhood Obesity Plan sets a positive direction of travel, but its vision of improved health and wellbeing for children and young people will require strong leadership from Government if it is to be realised. Solutions are available: for instance, evidence shows that if every primary school in England achieved a Food for Life Award then a million more children would be eating their five a day. But these initiatives are not receiving the consistent policy backing they need to become the national norm.  Children's food must become a national priority: the availability, affordability and acceptability of good, healthy, honest food desperately needs more consistent policy support. The cost and consequence - in terms of ill-health, reduced life chances, and an over-burdened NHS - of further inaction are too significant to ignore”.

Click here to read the State of Child Health report in full