What is the state of child health in the UK?

by Professor Russell Viner, RCPCH Officer for Health Promotion
February 2017

Inequality in this country is blighting children’s lives. This is the overwhelming conclusion of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH)’s landmark State of Child Health report. The report, which was compiled by child health experts in consultation with children and young people, draws together data on 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 smoking in pregnancy, to child deaths, we can, for the first time, provide a snapshot of child health across the UK.

While some progress is being made, what’s clear from our findings is that our nation’s poorest children are trailing behind their richer counterparts across almost all health indicators.

This is not good enough. Nor is it good enough that 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 before their time. For mortality in particular, we are sorely lagging behind our European counterparts – 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.

So, what needs to happen? At the RCPCH, we believe that there must be a national focus on child health to address these inequalities. Government should 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 universal children’s services such as health visiting and school nursing, and we fear that they will most impact upon low-income families.

No child’s health should be dependent on their family’s income, but equally no one person or organisation can solve the myriad problems identified in our report. That’s why we must, as a sector, work together to tackle these unacceptable child health inequalities. 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.