Widening gaps can been seen most clearly across the following indicators relating to children and young people:
- During the period analysed, the infant mortality rate per 1000 live births was identified as 1.1 percentage point higher for those from the most deprived areas than those from least deprived areas (5.1 and 4.0 respectively). Similarly, low birth weight varied by 2.6 percentage points between the least and most deprived (4.6 and 7.2 respectively) (2021). A renewed Maternity Strategy and sustained resource and investment is needed to improve our poor outcomes.
- 2021 obesity rates for primary one children showed a 4.2 percentage point difference over the period analysed between the least deprived 4.6%, most deprived 8.8%. Over the last five years the inequality gap in the proportion of Primary 1 children classified as obese widened from 45% to 93% due to an increase in obesity rates in the most deprived areas while rates in the least deprived areas saw no notable change. Focus on children and young people across the life course must be at the core of the developing the Northen Ireland Executive Healthy Weight Strategy. More must be done to fulfil the Northern Ireland Executive draft programme for government’s pledge to give every child the best start in life.
Dr Ray Nethercott, Officer for Ireland said:
The 2023 Northern Ireland Health Inequalities Report makes a grim read. But while the findings are stark, they do not capture the full picture of health inequality for children and young people in Northern Ireland. This is unacceptable.
The limited child health indicators in the report shows that inequality gaps pertaining to early years and pregnancy remained similar over the analysed period with the exception of low birth weight, where the gap widened. This is due to improvements in the least deprived areas coinciding with no change in the most deprived. While no notable change has been observed in infant mortality, a travesty in and of itself, a higher instance of 1.1 percentage points has been identified in infant death amongst the most deprived. It’s equally worrying to see that obesity and nutrition is not improving for our children. Over the last five years the inequality gap in the number of Primary 1 children classified as obese jumped from 45% to 93%, with an increase in obesity rates in the most deprived areas while those in the least deprived areas saw no notable change.
If we do not adequately measure health outcomes and indicators to provide an accurate picture of the health for children and young people, then we are essentially working in the dark and will be unable to enact meaningful change. Child health and wellbeing is everyone’s business, and their inclusion, visibility and prioritisation is crucial in the Health and Social Care (HSC) Transformation agenda. Holistic population level planning is essential to ensure the HSC child and adult worlds are adequately provided for in terms of continuity and smoother, safer patient pathways. An overarching regional Northern Ireland Executive Anti-Poverty Strategy with targeted indicators and solid data collection for children and young people is needed now more than ever if we are to ever shift the dial on child health inequalities.