So what is happening around the health of children? Obesity rates are highest in the most deprived 10% of the population, more than twice that of the least deprived 10%, and 35% of year six children are now overweight or obese; this is expected to reach 40% in the next four years. In the last six years there have been areas of improvement in child health but added to unhealthy weight is deterioration in immunisation rates and increase suicide rates in 15 to 24-year-olds. Type 2 diabetes is on the increase in children and inequalities persist. Child poverty has increased for those in working families, infant mortality has risen in parts of the nations, particularly for those living in the poorest areas.
With all these serious concerns about widening inequality in health in children and loss of life chances you would have expected an increase in investment in child health. Spending on children’s health services (5 to 19-year-olds) in England has declined by 6% and 5% in 0 to 5-year-olds in the last three years. Health visitors have declined by 24% since 2015 and according to the Royal College of Nursing, school nurses have decreased by 30% in the last 10 years.
In 2010, Sir Michael Marmot conducted a landmark review of health inequalities which concluded that reducing health inequalities would require action on six policy objectives:
- give every child the best start in life.
- enable all children, young people and adults to maximise their capabilities and have control over their lives
- create fair employment and good work for all.
- ensure healthy standard of living for all.
- create and develop healthy and sustainable places and communities.
- strengthen the role and impact of ill-health prevention.
This year, in his ‘ten years on’ report, he found that for the first time in more than a century, life expectancy has failed to increase across the country, and is declining for women in the worst-off decile on the index of multiple deprivation.
And all these inequalities start in childhood and can be prevented by a sustained focus on equality of opportunity in health and education in all schools.
In the east end of London there is one school nurse for six schools. We believe that physical, mental and social health need to be the focus of all schools and this can only be done with a full-time nurse in every school and on every governing board. Artificial intelligence is predicted to take away 40% of the today’s jobs. Education needs to be focused more on wider lifestyle skills. Unemployment is directly linked to ill health; health is directly linked to the environment. All children should have lessons in all years on cooking healthy meals and the connection to nature and the growing of sustainable organic foods. Exercise has an impact on reducing weight, confidence, co-ordination and many other skills. All children should be taught to swim by the age of seven and every week there needs to be daily exercise of at least one hour.
Norway has national service for men and women, which is usually done on leaving school. We believe that every 18-year-old should be guaranteed an apprentice year which could be anything from voluntary work to military training but focused on developing skills and transition to adulthood.