Study highlights postcode lottery of child health

Neil Puffett
Monday, September 7, 2015

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 be condemned to poor health than another living relatively close by, a study has found.

Analysis by the National Children's Bureau found significant variations in indicators of health and development in early childhood across different parts of the country.

The study, called Poor Beginnings, found that a child in reception class in Barking and Dagenham is more than two and a half times more likely to be obese than a child of the same age 18 miles away in Richmond-upon-Thames.

Meanwhile, a five-year-old in Leicester is five times more likely to have tooth decay than one in West Sussex.

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, accidental injuries and lower educational development.

While only 18.4 per cent of children living in the 30 richest areas suffer from tooth decay, this rises substantially to 31.6 per cent of four- to five-year-olds in the 30 most deprived areas.

However, the report found that the link between growing up in a deprived area and poor health is not inevitable as several areas have better than average child health despite being less prosperous.

Several areas with high levels of deprivation buck the trend and achieve better than expected results. Children in three local authority areas - Hartlepool, South Tyneside and Islington - have lower rates of tooth decay despite high levels of deprivation.

Publication of the report comes as responsibility for public health services aimed at under-fives, including health visitors and family nurse partnerships, are due to be transferred from central government to local authorities next month.

Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the NCB said it is "shocking" that two children growing up in neighbouring areas can expect "such a wildly different quality of health".

"As these variations are closely linked to poverty, with those in areas with the highest levels of deprivation more likely to suffer from a range of health issues, we have to ask whether England is becoming a nation of two halves," she said.

"The link between poverty and poor health is not inevitable.

"Work is urgently needed to understand how local health services can lessen the impact of living in a deprived area."

Feuchtwang said local and national government must make the same efforts to narrow the gap in health outcomes across the country for under-fives as has been made to narrow the gap in achievement between poor and rich pupils in school.

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