Academics warn of ‘appalling decline’ in child health in the UK

Children are being “betrayed” as the UK fails to give them a healthy start to life, academics have said.

Experts warned of the “appalling decline” of the health of children under the age of five in the UK – with soaring rates of obesity and tooth decay.

A new report, by the Academy for Medical Sciences, claims that, in recent years, progress on child health has “stalled”.

Key concerns outlined in the report include:

  • More than a fifth of children aged five are overweight or obese.
  • Nearly a quarter of five-year-olds in England are affected by tooth decay.
  • Between 2014 and 2017 there was a rise in infant mortality in England – disproportionately affecting the poorest parts of the country. The UK ranks 30th out of 49 OECD countries for infant mortality.
  • A decrease in the proportion of children having vaccinations.
  • A rise in demand for children’s mental health services.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said the document “provides alarming evidence that the UK is failing too many of its children”.

Glasgow University’s Professor Helen Minnis (pictured), co-chairwoman of the report, said: “Child deaths are rising, infant survival lags behind comparable countries, and preventable physical and mental health issues plague our youngest citizens.

“The science is clear – we are betraying our children. Unless the health of babies and young children is urgently prioritised, we condemn many to a life of poorer health and lost potential. The time to act is now.”

Co-chairman Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, from the University of Oxford, said: “There are huge challenges for the NHS today, driven by the growing pressures on health and social care from an ageing population.

“Even more disconcerting is the evidence cited in our Academy of Medical Sciences report of an appalling decline in the health of our children, which makes for an even more bleak outlook for their future.

“There is clear evidence in the report that tackling childhood health conditions, addressing inequalities and providing early years social support can change the future of health and prosperity.”

Commenting on the report, Dr Mike McKean, vice president for health policy at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “This report provides alarming evidence that the UK is failing too many of its children.

“We are presiding over a crisis in child health that demands urgent action. As paediatricians, we witness daily the devastating consequences of these systemic failures.

“Without transformative intervention on child health, we condemn generations to a poorer future.”

Claire O’Meara, from the UK Committee for Unicef, said: “The Government needs to act on this evidence now to reverse already worrying declines in children’s health outcomes.”

A Government spokesman said: “We’ve taken significant action to improve children’s health, both now and in the long term. This includes dramatically reducing sugar in children’s foods, investing over £600 million to improve the quality of sport for children, and encouraging healthy diets for families from lower income households through schemes like Healthy Start.

“We’re also investing an additional £2.3 billion a year into mental health services, the number of children seen by NHS dentists rose by 14% last year, and we’re taking steps to reduce youth vaping and introducing the first ever smokefree generation.

“Cutting waiting lists is one of the Government’s top five priorities. Despite ongoing pressure on the NHS, we have cut the total waiting list and the number of individual patients waiting for treatment compared to the previous month.”

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