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Large child health variations across country

NCB says gaps in health outcomes must be closed

Adrian O'Dowd

Monday, 07 September 2015

Large variations in child health exist across England for no good reason, concludes a report published today by charity the National Children’s Bureau (NCB).

The report Poor Beginnings: Health inequalities among young children across England, says the health and development of children under five varies dramatically between different parts of England, with a child living in one area far more likely to have poor health than another living relatively close by.

For the report, the authors used the latest published data to analyse variation in four key outcomes for children’s health and development in the early years:

  • obesity in four-five year-olds
  • tooth decay in five-year-olds
  • hospital admissions due to injury in under-fives
  • children achieving a good level of development by the end of reception

Comparisons were made across English local authorities and regions and the analysis also used indications of multiple deprivation to assess the link between the extent of deprivation in a local authority area and early year’s health and development outcomes.

The report used publicly available data compiled by Public Health England’s National Child and Maternal Health Intelligence Network (ChiMat) as part of its Data Atlas.

The analysis found stark variations, with a child in reception class in Barking and Dagenham over two and a half times more likely to be obese than a child of the same age in Richmond upon Thames, only 18 miles down the road.

A five-year-old in Leicester was five times more likely to have tooth decay than one in West Sussex, while a young child on the Isle of Wight was over four times more likely to be admitted to hospital with an injury than one of their peers in Westminster.

At regional level, the authors calculated that if under-fives in the North West enjoyed the same health and development as those in the South East, more than 15,000 case of ill-health could be prevented.

In their analysis, the authors confirmed that the health and development of children under five was closely linked to the affluence of the area they grow up in, with those living in deprived areas far more likely to suffer poor health.

However, the data showed that poor early health was not inevitable for children growing up in deprived areas. Several areas with high levels of deprivation achieved better than expected results.

NCB chief executive Anna Feuchtwang said: “It is shocking that two children growing up in neighbouring areas can expect such a wildly different quality of health.

“Government must make it a national mission over the next five years to ensure that the heath and development of the first five years of a child’s life is improved.”

Viv Bennett, chief nurse at Public Health England (PHE), said: “One of PHE’s priorities is to ensure every child has the best start in life, so they are ready to learn at two and ready for school at five.

“We are focussing on high immunisation rates, health visitor interventions at five vital stages in early years and maternal mental health and early attachment, as they are strong foundations for health and wellbeing in children.

“PHE is also supporting local authorities in commissioning services that enable positive health and wellbeing for all families and provide help at the earliest opportunity.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “The variations found in this report underline the need for devolving public health spending to local areas who know the issues which affect their population.”

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