Poverty in the UK damaging children’s health

‘Stark inequalities’ and high rates of child death, obesity and ill-health were all highlighted in a report on child health in the UK. Children living in the most deprived areas are much more likely to be in poor health, be overweight or obese, suffer from asthma, have poorly managed diabetes, experience mental health problems and die early.

Children in the UK have higher death rates, obesity and ill-health than in much of Europe. The UK could do far more to improve child health and well-being.

The UK has the fifth highest mortality rate for babies under the age of one year out of 19 European countries and one of the highest rates for older children and young people.

There are around 130 more deaths of one to nine-year-olds in the UK every year than there would be if it met the European average. The leading causes are cancer, injuries and poisonings, and congenital conditions.

  • Smoking in pregnancy increases the risk of deaths in babies and disease in later life. Some 11% of pregnant women in in England and 15% in Northern Ireland smoked during pregnancy, compared with 5% in Lithuania and Sweden. The rate in the UK is higher than in many European countries and strongly associated with deprivation.
  • Breastfeeding rates are low – only 34% of babies are breastfed at all by six months, compared with 71% in Norway.

In England’s most deprived areas, 40% of children were overweight or obese in the last year, compared to 27% in the most affluent.

The link between child health and adult health and with the economic prosperity of households and nations is not adequately recognised. According to the report, children living in the most deprived areas are much more likely to be in poor health, be overweight or obese, suffer from asthma, have poorly managed diabetes, experience mental health problems, and die early.

Poor health in infancy, childhood, and young adult life will ultimately mean poor adult health, and this in turn will mean an unhealthy life and poor economic productivity. Such were the conditions in the UK during the nineteenth century and yet today the UK is one of the richest countries in the world.

The Royal College for Pediatricians and Child Health (RCPCH) has called for a broadcasting ban on adverts for high fat, sugar and salt foods before 9pm, support for breastfeeding and minimum unit pricing of alcohol to make strong drinks unaffordable for children and young people. In addition, they want the public smoking ban extended to schools, playgrounds and hospitals. Similarly, the Royal Medical Colleges and other campaigners have argued for the introduction of measures to reduce the sugar, saturated fat, and salt from everyday foods and restrict junk food marketing to children.

Child poverty in the UK is projected to rise 50% by 2020. It is saying that unless we act, the price will be high – for our children, our economy and our overstretched NHS which will take the knock-on effects.”

In January 2017, the French government banned to practice of restaurants providing unlimited free refills for fizzy drinks.

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