Health

Children's health 'shocking' postcode lottery, charity says

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Media captionThe National Children's Bureau says where a child lives can affect their start in life

Some local authorities in England are not doing enough to prevent health problems in children under the age of five, a report suggests.

The National Children's Bureau says it found wide variations in levels of obesity and tooth decay, even in areas of similar deprivation.

The charity said it was "shocking" children could have "wildly different" health prospects depending on location.

The government said it showed the need to devolve health spending locally.

The report, which analysed data from Public Health England, showed 51% of five-year-olds in Leicester tooth decay compared with 9.5% of five-year-olds in West Sussex.

Childhood health problems

150,000+

five-year-olds are affected by tooth decay

60,000

four-to-five-year-olds in England are obese

  • £51m a year estimated short-term costs of child obesity

  • 26,000 children aged five to nine were admitted to hospital to have teeth removed in 2013/14

  • 10% of Reception children in London, the West Midlands and the North East are obese

It also found a child on the Isle of Wight is more than four times more likely to be admitted to hospital with an injury than a child in central London.

The charity said that while variations are closely linked to poverty, poorer health outcomes in deprived areas are not inevitable.

Children in Hartlepool, South Tyneside and Islington, north London have relatively low rates of tooth decay despite high levels of poverty while Salford in Greater Manchester has low obesity rates.

From October councils in England will take on responsibility for young children's public health services but the charity said the government had to make improving services "a national mission".

Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the National Children's Bureau, said: "It is shocking that two children growing up in neighbouring areas can expect such a wildly different quality of health.

"The link between poverty and poor health is not inevitable. Work is urgently needed to understand how local health services can lessen the impact of living in a deprived area.

"We need local and national government to make the same efforts to narrow the gap in health outcomes across the country for under-fives as has been made to narrow the gap in achievement between poor and rich pupils in school."

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "We have increased the number of midwives and health visitors, and later this year our childhood obesity strategy will outline how we will help children lead healthier lives.

"The variations found in this report underline the need for devolving public health spending to local areas who know the issues which affect their population."