Poverty the 'biggest threat' to children

26 January 2017, 07:15

school children generic

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health warns in its State of Child Health - Wales report that the alarming gap between rich and poor is risking the health of children in Wales.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health warns in its State of Child Health - Wales report that the alarming gap between rich and poor is risking the health of children in Wales.

The document brings together data for the first time on 25 measures, ranging from specific child health conditions such as asthma, diabetes and epilepsy, through to risk factors including obesity, low breastfeeding rates, and mortality,  providing a snapshot of how the UK's children are faring when it comes to their health and wellbeing.  It reveals that in Wales:

- An estimated 200,000 children live in poverty

- Children from the most deprived fifth of the population have a rate of child death 70% higher than those in the least deprived fifth

- 7% of fifteen year old boys and 9% of fifteen year old girls are regular smokers

- 13% of 15 years olds admit to drinking alcohol once a week, with binge drinking a particular problem

Dr Mair Parry said:

"Poverty has a major effect on the health of children and young people.  Mothers from deprived communities are more likely to smoke, drink and have a poor diet during pregnancy, which can lead to low birth weights and risks to child health.  And young people themselves from poorer backgrounds are more likely to smoke or drink, causing both short and long term health problems.

The Welsh Government has done much to support families in need, in particular through the Flying Start project which provides free quality childcare, enhance health visiting services and access to parenting programmes. But there are clear gaps. We cannot allow where a child is born to so starkly affect their chances of leading a healthy life."

The report makes a series of recommendations which its authors say could have a major impact on improving child health across Wales, including:

- An extension of the ban on smoking in public places to all school grounds, sports fields and playgrounds

- Compulsory evidence-based health and wellbeing programmes embedded in all primary and secondary schools across Wales

- The extension of national programmes to measure height and weight of children after birth, before school and in adolescence

- The Welsh Government to pursue responsibility to implement minimum unit pricing on alcohol

The report, which has been compiled by child health experts with input from children and young people, argues that without interventions to close the gap between rich and poor, and targeted support for those most in need, Wales will continue to fail its children when it comes to their health.

Dr Parry added:

"In addition to specific actions, we want to see Welsh Government adopt a 'child health in all policies' approach.  That means that whatever policies are made, from whatever Government department, they must consider the impact on child health.

Many of the illnesses that appear in adults have their roots in childhood - so by investing and intervening early, we're much more likely to create a healthier population.

The State of Child Health - Wales report is set to be a springboard for campaigning activity to ensure child health is a key political priority.”

The Welsh Government says it welcomes the report and will consider the findings.

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