Much more needs to be done to improve UK children's health, and acting early will save taxpayers' money, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) said in an assessment of the state of the health of the nation's children.
The latest report, which has the backing of several children's charities, calls on government, the ealth service, social care and education professionals to take action and make improvements. It highlights a strong economic case for doing more, sooner.
For example, reducing obesity by just one percentage point among children and young people could lead to savings of £1 billion each year as children would be less likely to end up with long-term health problems needing NHS treatment.In addition to improvements on physical health, the report highlights the need for society to support children to build emotional resilience, supporting children through better communication to learn from their mistakes and deal with life's inevitable 'ups and downs'.
Professor Dame Sally C Davies, CMO, said: “My generation unquestioningly expected our future to be better than our parents' and grandparents'. But our children and grandchildren face a far more challenging outlook. We need a renewed focus on children.
“This report questions whether we have got the balance right in our society and should act as a wake-up call. The evidence is crystal clear and the opportunity is huge – investing in children is a certain way of improving the economic health of our nation, as well as our children's well-being.
Specific recommendations for change in the CMO report include:
- a named GP should be available for every child with long-term conditions;
- a review of the cost-effectiveness of extending the Healthy Start Vitamin Programme to every child:
- NICE should be asked to examine the cost-effectiveness of offering the Healthy Start vitamins to every child. Healthy Start vitamins contain vital ingredients for children's development, including vitamins A, C, D - all critical for growth, vision, healthy skin and strong bones;
- new national children's week to help change our national culture to celebrate children and young people and help bring together the myriad of organisations with the power to make a difference - including government, charities and the NHS;
- Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission should routinely ask for evidence on how well children's and health services work together as part of the inspection process, to drive real joining-up of services across the system;
- a regular survey on mental health among children and young people, including comparisons with other developed countries, should be commissioned and published annually, to improve the evidence base for meeting young people's mental health needs.
The report paints a stark picture of the experience children have growing up in the uk as well as the dramatic difference between the experiences of poor children and better-off children. The report highlights that the long-term social cost of childhood obesity is estimated to be as high as £700 million each year and 75 per cent of lifetime mental health disorders start before 18 years of age, with the peak onset of most conditions being from 8 to 15 years.
Furthermore, about 10 per cent of adolescents suffer from a mental health problem at any one time. Dr Hilary Cass, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “We know that the UK lags behind much of Europe when it comes to child mortality rates and that there is too much variation in care of some common conditions such as asthma and diabetes.
“We're also faced with one in three children aged nine who are overweight or obese and storing up health problems for the future, and increasing numbers of children suffering from poor mental health.
“Today's report provides a timely reminder of the challenges we face and the importance of child health in the overall health of the nation. The focus on improving evidence around mental health, widening access to leisure activity to encourage children to be active, extended paediatric training for GPs and ensuring more effective transition between child and adult health services is all welcome and has the potential to improve health outcomes for children.”