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UK lags behind comparable countries on child health – report

The UK is lagging behind on child health, according to research that looked at health measures in 14 other comparable countries


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The UK is lagging behind comparable countries on child health and is a long way short of its stated ambition to be an international leader in fostering a healthy start for children, a report says.

Health outcomes for babies and young children in the UK are stalling in key areas such as infant mortality and immunisation levels, while mortality, breastfeeding and obesity rates lag behind other comparable countries.

The report, based on research by the Nuffield Trust and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, looks at 16 child health measures over time and across 14 other comparable countries.


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It concludes that the UK must do more to improve maternal and antenatal health promotion, address health and socioeconomic inequalities, and protect public health budgets.

RCN professional lead for children and young people Fiona Smith said: ‘This report highlights the serious health challenges facing children and young people in the UK.

‘It’s unacceptable that the UK is lagging behind so many countries when it comes to their care.’

Key findings

Key findings from the report, called International comparisons of health and wellbeing in early childhood, include:

  • Rates of deaths for babies under a year old and babies under 28 days have plateaued since 2013. In 2014, the UK had the fourth-highest infant mortality rate among comparable countries.
  • The UK still lags behind other countries on the uptake of measles vaccinations.
  • Rates of breastfeeding are among the lowest in the world, with just 34% of babies in the UK receiving any breast milk at six months in 2010.
  • In 2013, the UK had one of the highest proportions of overweight females aged 2-19 at 29%, second only to the US.
  • The UK has the second-highest prevalence of babies born with neural tube defects, which can be prevented by taking folic acid.

Deeply troubling

Ms Smith said: ‘The number of children in relative income poverty is deeply troubling – the RCN has warned that poverty and deprivation are linked to poor health outcomes in childhood. School nurses and health visitors see at firsthand the effects of child health inequalities and play a pivotal role in their mitigation.

‘Yet their numbers are dwindling at an alarming rate and cuts to services across the UK mean that many children are not able to access the care they need.  

‘If we continue on this trajectory we are jeopardising the future of our children and young people. To prevent problems for our future adult population, the government must properly invest in children’s services.’


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