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England falling behind other European countries on child health improvements

England is falling behind other European countries on a raft of child health measures, research reveals.

The Child health in 2030 in England report, by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, uses long-term historical data to project outcomes for children and young people’s health in 2030 across Europe.

While it concludes that England is in the middle of the pack for some outcomes, on the majority the country is likely to fall further behind other wealthy countries over the next decade.

Infant mortality in England and Wales rose in 2015 and again in 2016, reversing the 100-year decline in one of the key indicators of population health.

The college is calling for a properly-funded health strategy as a response in order to transform the life chances of children and young people.

The report finds:

  • Mortality: If infant mortality begins to decline again at its previous rate, rates will be 80% higher than the EU15+ in 2030. If UK mortality continues the current ‘stall’ then it will be 140% higher in 2030
  • England and Wales had notably high mortality for one to 19-year-olds for chronic respiratory conditions (e.g. asthma) and epilepsy (2001-2015) – mortality in both conditions is likely to remain substantially higher than the EU15+ average if current trends continue
  • Key risk factors for infant mortality are higher in England than in comparable countries – it has higher proportions of young mothers and higher proportions of smoking during pregnancy than most EU15+ countries. Low breastfeeding rates are also concerning
  • Mental health: Reported mental health problems in England are set to increase by 63% in 2030 if recent trends continue
  • Around 30% of 11–15-year-olds in England reported being bullied one or more times in the previous two months – if current trends continue, bullying in England will continue close to or above the average across the EU15+ to 2030
  • Obesity: Nearly one-third of England’s most deprived boys will be obese in 2030 if the Government’s Childhood Obesity Plan is not implemented

Professor Russell Viner, report author and president of the RCPCH, said: “This report shows that England currently has poorer health outcomes than the average across the EU15+ in most areas studied, and the rate of improvement for many outcomes is lower than the EU15+.

This means that unless current trends improve, England is likely to fall further behind countries of similar wealth over the next decade making it harder to give children the best start in life, receive the care they need and remain healthy into productive, happy adult lives.”

Poverty lies at the root of many risk factors for infant mortality as well as other major child health challenges.

Viner said: “Child poverty is predicted to increase over the next decade, which, if true, may make our predictions under-estimates. Children living in poverty are more likely to be obese, have mental health issues and die early.

“We welcome the opportunity provided by NHS England to work with them on proposing how we can improve children and young people’s health in their Long-Term Plan. This Plan must set out a clear vision for delivering world class health and wellbeing outcomes for our next generation.”

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