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'Alarming poverty gap' in UK puts children's health in 'jeopardy', study finds

Article By: Melissa McAlees, News Editor

Around one in five children in the UK are thought to be living in poverty, with those from the most deprived backgrounds experiencing worse health compared with the most affluent, new research suggests.

The 'State of Child Health' 2017 report, published by The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health’s (RCPCH), has found that a lack of strategic national focus and persistence of a wide gap between rich and poor in the UK is "damaging" the health of children.

Louise Silverton, director for midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives, said: "As in previous reports the origin of many of the problems identified in the report lie before birth, in the health and social well-being of mothers. Interventions before and during pregnancy can produce long-term health gains for both mother and child.

"In particular, we need to see improvements in many areas and to encourage changes in people’s lifestyles. This includes improvements in breastfeeding rates, reductions in drinking and smoking in pregnancy and reductions in obesity, among many issues.

"There is also a pressing need to reduce the widening inequality in the UK. Those in the most disadvantaged groups, adults and children, are the ones often suffering from poorer general health and poorer outcomes for mother and baby in pregnancy."


The report looked at 25 health indicators, including asthma, diabetes and epilepsy, as well as obesity, breastfeeding and mortality, to provide a snapshot of children's health and well-being.

It found that the UK ranks 15 out of 19 Western European countries on infant (under one year of age) mortality and has one of the highest rates for children and young people in Western Europe.

There is also marked variation in smoking in pregnancy across the UK. Levels of smoking were highest in deprived populations, such as Scotland, and in mothers aged under 20.

More than one in five children starting primary school in England, Wales and Scotland are also identified as overweight or obese, with little improvement in these figures over the past ten years.

Obesity, according to the NHS, leads to a significantly increased risk of serious life-long health problems, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.


The report outlines a number of key recommendations for improving the health and well-being of young children.

These include:

• Each government developing an evidence-based child health and well-being strategy;

• Ensuring universal early years' public health services, such as health visitors and school nurses, are prioritised and supported;

• Promoting good nutrition and exercise before, during and after pregnancy;

• Ensuring children who are overweight or obese can access services to help them lose weight;

• Introducing statutory and comprehensive personal, social and health education in all schools;

• Training all child health professionals so they can deal with children and young people with mental health problems.

'Alarming gap'

Professor Neena Modi, president of the RCPCH, believes it is "tragic" that the future health and happiness of a significant and growing number of children is in "jeopardy because of an alarming gap between rich and poor."

"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," she said.

"Poor health in infancy, childhood, and young adult life will ultimately mean poor adult health, and this in turn will mean a blighted life and poor economic productivity. The UK is one of the richest countries in the world; we can and must do better, for the sake for each individual, and that of the nation as a whole."

Professor Russell Viner, RCPCH officer for health promotion added: "We are calling on each Government across the UK to adopt a ‘child health in all policies approach’. That means that whatever policies are made, from whatever Government department, they must consider the impact on child health.

"If politicians are serious about improving our nation’s health, then they have to think long-term. And that means investing in children. It has to be our ambition for the health of the UK’s children to be amongst the best in the world; anything less and we are failing current and future generations."

For information on the report visit:


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