POLITICS IN THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE CHILD
This initiative is intended to promote energetically the changes in policy that will be essential to the effective delivery of a world-leading framework for childhood health and wellbeing.
As policy-makers have addressed the ‘obesity crisis’, a greater understanding of the wider importance of child health and wellbeing has grown. It has never been so clearly demonstrated that the adult carries with them, and passes on to successive generations, all the positive and negative experiences of childhood.
Through this process, much more information about the modern childhood experience has become available. The steadily corrosive reduction in physical activity, the less healthy diet and the appalling growth of mental health problems are now thoroughly documented.
What choice do we have?
The option of accepting these changes as inevitable or too big to tackle appeals to nobody. The overwhelming current and future cost to the NHS of treating the adults our children become is in itself an irresistible reason for intervention.
How can we effect change?
The politicians who prioritise child issues work tirelessly to effect change but are in a minority. Children need political champions from all walks of life and circumstance. The challenge is great and there is no magic wand or catch-all single bullet. The work needed will require determination, careful judgement and a long-term focus.
In order to achieve this, the importance of improving the childhood experience needs to be recognised within Government by the appointment of a Secretary of State for Children with power of audit over other Departments. A properly integrated approach looking at the ‘whole child’ is the only long-term guarantee of success but there are many single steps that can be taken in the short term.
THE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCE TODAY
The facts below illustrate the need for policy makers in 2018 to ‘put children first’. Full references available on request.
- One third of our children are overweight/obese (Department of Health HSCIC, Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet)
- Over £5bn is spent by the NHS each year on health problems associated with excess body weight (Department of Health ‘Reducing obesity and improving diet’.)
- Obesity in 22% of 4-5 year olds rises to 33% at ages 6-7; projected life-spans are decreasing for the first time in history (Hardy LR, Harrell JS, and Bell RA, Journal of Paediatric Nursing)
- Children whose emotional needs are unmet by their parents are likelier to have behavioural problems, poor educational outcomes and are more likely to incur extensive costs from health, education, social and criminal justice services throughout the life course (The Sutton Trust 2014)
- The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that 3.5 million children – one in four – will be in absolute poverty by the end of the next Parliament (‘Bridging the Social Divide,’ March 2015)
- Children growing up in low income groups typically live in neighbourhoods with a denser supply of fast food outlets; less availability of fresh fruit and vegetables and less safe places for physical activity. Fruit and vegetables can be 30-40% more expensive in poor neighbourhoods (‘Going hungry: the struggle to eat healthily on a low income’: NCH, The Children’s Charity, 2004)
- 89% of girls and 79% of boys aged 5-15 fail to meet the minimum recommended guidelines for physical activity. (Youth Sports Trust, 2015, Findings from the ‘You, School and PE’ survey)
- Today’s children are the least-ever active generation in the UK. ‘British Heart Foundation, Physical Activity Statistics 2014,’ has highlighted that amongst children aged 2-4 only 9% of boys and 10% of girls are achieving their physical activity recommendations in the United Kingdom
- The Persil/Unilever Project ‘Dirt is Good’ campaign found that most primary school age children spend less time in outdoor play than prisoners are required to have by law.
- There is no programme to ensure that all children in care or in need can access good motor skill control, sound processing or stereopsis of vision. ‘In 2016, 53.7% of children looked after had a special educational need, compared to 46.7% of children in need and 14.4% of all children,’ ‘DfE: outcomes for children looked after by local authorities in England’)
- Toxic levels of stress impact upon the brain (‘Why Love Matters,’ Gerhardt S. 2015)