Children’s health in England falling behind other Western countries, says report

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England is lagging behind Europe when it comes to children’s health, a new report has claimed.

Young people have poorer health outcomes than many comparable wealthy countries, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) warned, and could fall further behind if current trends continue.

Projections identify “the danger on the horizon”, the country’s most senior paediatrician said, as he called for the long-term NHS plan to improve the health of children.

The report, which used long-term historical data to project outcomes for children in 2030, compared England with European and other Western countries known as the EU15+.

France, Spain, Germany, Greece, Italy, Australia and Canada were among those included.

The infant mortality rate in England and Wales rose in 2015 and 2016 and is currently 30% higher than the average, according to the report.

If it begins to decline again, as it was previously, infant mortality could be 80% higher than the average across the EU15+ in 2030, it said.

If the rate continues as it is, it could be 140% higher in 12 years than comparable countries.

The report predicts that mental health problems in England could increase by 63% in 2030 if current trends continue, rising from around 5% of four to 19-year-olds to around 8%.

Child obesity analysis
Nearly one in three of England’s most deprived boys could be obese in 12 years’ time without intervention, the RCPCH warned (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Professor Russell Viner, president of the RCPCH and author of the report, 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.

“This report clearly identifies the danger on the horizon – but trends shown here are not inevitable. Each of them could be turned around if key actions are undertaken.”

Children living in poverty, who are more likely to be obese, have mental health problems and die earlier, are of particular concern, Prof Viner said.

He described the Government’s childhood obesity strategy as “admirable”, but said “there is more work to be done elsewhere”.

He said: “If we are to turn the tide on these predictions, development of a children and young people’s health strategy for England and funding for a transformation programme to lead improvements in children’s health will be essential.”

The EU15+ consists of 15 countries of the European Union in 2004 (Portugal, Luxembourg, Sweden, Greece, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, France, Finland, UK, Denmark, Spain and Ireland) plus Norway, Australia and Canada.

An NHS England spokeswoman said: “This report provides useful context for the NHS Long Term Plan to ensure the best outcomes for children in the future.”

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