A CHILD IN reception class in Barking and Dagenham is 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. Meanwhile, a five-year old in Leicester is over five times more likely to have tooth decay than a child of the same age in West Sussex.
The statistics come from a new analysis carried out by the National Children’s Bureau that “confirms that the health and development of children under five is 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”. The mainstream press reported it as a “postcode lottery”
Comparing the 30 most deprived local authorities with the 30 best-off, the report finds that children under five in poor areas are significantly more prone to obesity, tooth decay, as well as accidental injuries and lower educational development.
However, the data also shows that poor early health is not inevitable for children growing up in deprived areas. Several areas with high levels of deprivation buck the trend and achieve “better than expected” results. This suggests more work is required to understand how local strategies and programmes can make a difference.
Reacting to the report, Dr Carol Ewing, vice president for health policy at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said there is “an overwhelming body of evidence showing that prevention and early intervention works. But we have to challenge the idea that this is irretrievable – that if a child is born into a low-income family, they are automatically on a pathway to ill health.”
The NCB is calling for further analysis by Public Health England and the Department of Health to determine what local approaches are making a significant difference. From next month the responsibility for young children’s public health services is being transferred to local authorities.