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Friday 09 February 2024

‘Urgent action’ needed to improve children’s health, report warns

Experts are calling for ‘urgent action’ to improve children’s health and wellbeing in the first five years of life.

Southampton’s Professor Keith Godfrey has contributed to a new report published this week by the Academy of Medical Sciences.

The national report presents evidence of declining health among children under five in the UK. It says taking steps to improve the health of babies and young children will have lasting benefits.

Child health issues

Health in the early years of childhood lays the foundations for mental and physical health throughout life. Healthy children are more likely to grow into healthy, productive adults.

The report sets out the evidence that, in recent years, progress on child health has stalled. It outlines several key issues, including:

  • Rising rates of obesity, with over a fifth of children aged five now overweight or obese.
  • One-in-four five-year-olds are affected by tooth decay.
  • A rise in infant mortality in England.
  • Higher demand for children’s mental health services.
  • A decrease in children having vaccinations.

Data suggests children in the poorest areas of the country are disproportionately affected.

There are also economic consequences of not addressing these issues early – with the cost of inaction estimated to be at least £16 billion a year.

Prioritising early childhood

Child health experts from across the UK produced the report, which includes perspectives from parents and carers with lived experience.

Chaired by Professor Helen Minnis FMedSci and Professor Sir Andrew Pollard FMedSci, the group examined the impact of early health interventions. Prof Sir Andrew Pollard said:

“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.

“It is time for big thinking and clear strategy by Government to protect the health and life chances of our children today and transform the future of our nation.”

Prof Keith Godfrey is a Professor of Epidemiology and Human Development at the University of Southampton and Theme Lead for Nutrition, Lifestyle and Metabolism in the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre. He said:

“The first five years of life provide a crucial window of opportunity to improve children’s health.

“Urgent action is needed to ensure all children get the best possible start in life. New policy initiatives are needed, starting before conception and continuing through pregnancy, infancy and early childhood.”

The full report is available to read here.