There is unlikely to be anyone in the world who would not be supportive of good health for children. Yet, child health is struggling. A year ago, the UK Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) published ‘State of Child Health’. We found nearly one in five children in the UK to be living in poverty and troubling disparity between the health of children in the UK and many similar nations in Europe. A year on and the RCPCH has issued a series of scorecards, showing what change there has been in the nations of the UK. Individual nations, chiefly Scotland and Wales, have made commendable progress. However, what emerges is a picture of piecemeal policy, not the astute, visionary, integrated strategy so sorely needed. Current UK metrics remain stark; child mortality is higher than in many comparable countries; about a third of 10-year-old children are overweight or obese; a quarter of 5-year-olds have tooth decay; self-harm among girls aged 13–16 has risen by two-thirds in the last 3 years; compared with 2015–2016, there has been a decrease in 2016–2017 in coverage of four of the six routine vaccinations at age 1 and 2 years, and coverage for Measles, Mumps and Rubella decreased for the third year in a row, following previous annual increases over 9 years. Child poverty is at its highest since 2010 and compared with the overall population, children are more likely to be living in a low-income household.
Poor child health has very serious wider implications. Over 80% of obese children will remain obese as they grow older, and this will lead to them losing about 15–20 healthy-life years as adults. Teenagers, even if only at the upper end of normal body weight, have a substantially increased risk of premature death in adulthood. Air pollution experienced in fetal life, infancy and early childhood scars lungs for life, increasing the likelihood of chronic respiratory conditions in old age. Adverse childhood experiences increase the risk of health-harming behaviours and non-communicable diseases in later life. These are classic examples of societies fouling their own nests, by failing to see the destructive consequences for everyone of not safeguarding child health. The moral case for better child health is self-evident, as is that vested in self-interest, but these aside, there is a powerful economic case too. Governments need populations that are healthy, economically active and not crippled by chronic illness in old age. This means placing health foremost, especially during early development when life-long trajectories of well-being are set.
Link to report page here