At the beginning of the last century, one in six UK children did not live to see their first birthday. Despite the fact that improvements to child health have since come on in leaps and bounds, the health and happiness of a significant number of children in this country remains in jeopardy.
Our landmark new report, State of Child Health, draws together data on a comprehensive list of 25 measures of the health of UK infants, children and young people. With evidence gathered on specific conditions such as asthma, diabetes and epilepsy, risk factors for poor health such as obesity and a low rate of breastfeeding, to child deaths, we can, for the first time, provide a snapshot of child health across the UK.
In short, we can reveal that inequality in this country is blighting children’s lives. Our young people from the most deprived backgrounds experience much worse health compared with the most affluent. Children and young people living in poverty are more likely to be overweight or obese, engage in risky behaviours such as smoking or drinking alcohol and, most shockingly, die earlier than their peers. Compared to our European counterparts, we are sorely lagging behind – the UK ranks 15 out of 19 Western European countries on infant mortality and has one of the highest rates of child and adolescent deaths in Western Europe.
We need a national focus on child health to address these inequalities. That’s why we’re calling on Government to develop a cross-departmental child health strategy and take a “child health in all policies” approach to decision-making, ensuring that all public and economic policy is scrutinised in relation to its potential impact on child health. Most urgently, however, we want to see a reversal of public health cuts in England without delay. These cuts have disproportionately affected children’s services such as health visiting and school nursing; a false economy when you consider that a healthy start in life means that children are more likely to become healthy adults, reducing the financial burden on the NHS.
Our report was compiled by child health experts, but they are not alone in calling for action. We also consulted with children and young people across the length and breadth of the UK and they all agreed – more needs to be done to improve their health and wellbeing.
We can’t have a blinkered approach to child health – coordinated action is needed to prevent illness from the very start of life and promote well-being across all sections of society. To find out how you can get involved with our campaign, visit www.rcpch.ac.uk/state-of-child-health Let’s all pledge to work together to improve child health.
Professor Russell Viner
Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health Officer for Health Promotion