Stark warning over Northern Ireland’s poor child health in landmark State of Child Health report

The widening gap between rich and poor is risking the health of children in Northern Ireland, warns the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) in its State of Child Health – Northern Ireland report launching today.

The State of Child Health brings together data for the first time on 25 measures of child health – ranging from specific conditions such as asthma, diabetes and epilepsy, through to risk factors including obesity, low breastfeeding rates, and mortality – to provide a snapshot of how the UK’s children are faring when it comes to their health and wellbeing. It reveals that in Northern Ireland:

  • An estimated 23% of children are reported to live in poverty
  • 28% of children are overweight or obese
  • Less than 28% of babies at 6 weeks receive any breastmilk – the lowest level in the UK
  • Smoking is the biggest cause of preventable illness and premature death, killing around 2,300 people a year in Northern Ireland

Dr Karl McKeever, RCPCH Officer for Ireland, said:

“We can’t afford to ignore the fact that child health is not as good as it should be in Northern Ireland.  Poverty is having a devastating effect on families – with smoking and drinking alcohol, poor mental health and obesity amongst children and young people all more likely to affect those from the most deprived backgrounds.

“Today we’re bringing together experts from across the health sector, and beyond, to agree how child health should be prioritised and how we can ensure these issues are high on the political agenda.

“The current political vacuum makes it difficult to enact policy change. But ultimately, the state of child health will not improve without bold action from policy makers to ensure that every child – no matter where they are born – has the best possible chance of leading a healthy life.”

The report makes a series of recommendations which its authors say could have a major impact on improving child health across Northern Ireland. These include:

  • The implementation of a child poverty strategy
  • A ‘child health in all policies’ approach 
  • A ban on smoking in cars when children are present – which is currently already in place across the other UK nations and the Republic of Ireland
  • The introduction of minimum unit pricing for alcohol
  • An expansion of national programmes to measure children after birth, before school and in adolescence
  • A graduated driving licensing scheme for novice drivers
  • A regular survey commissioned by the Northern Ireland Executive to identify the prevalence of mental health problems among children and young people in order to aid the planning of mental health care services
  • Appropriate mental health support offered in all primary and post primary schools in Northern Ireland.

The report, which has been compiled by child health experts with input from children and young people, argues that without interventions to close the gap between rich and poor, and targeted policies to improve child health, Northern Ireland will continue to fail its children when it comes to their health.

Dr McKeever added:

“Many of the illnesses that appear in adults have their roots in childhood – so by investing and intervening early, we’re much more likely to create a healthier population.”

The State of Child Health – Northern Ireland report is set to be a springboard for campaigning activity to ensure child health is a key political priority.

To view the full report, please visit the State of Child Health section of our website.