Advancing child wellbeing has always required strong advocacy. Charles Dickens used fiction to draw attention to the plight of children in Victorian England. The Convention on the Rights of the Child was drafted by Eglantyne Jebb, an English primary school teacher driven to campaign for social reform when she witnessed the widespread effects of poverty on children. A UK paediatrician, George Frederic Still, was among those who, at the turn of the last century, argued that children’s diseases – defined by biological development – require specific study. The Royal College of Paediatrics (RCPCH) has long argued for the right of children to benefit from medical research. Many of these concepts were considered radical when first proposed. It seems we are at another such pivotal moment today.

In January, the RCPCH launched a report in which we scrutinised 25 metrics to define “The State of Child Health” in the UK. We found improvement in some measures, but a worrying picture overall; for example, 40 per cent of five year olds have tooth decay, one in three 10 year olds are overweight or obese and poverty continues to blight children’s lives to an unacceptable degree. What can be done about this?

"UK scientists were the first to recognise that improving health in pregnancy, infancy and childhood will also reduce the burden of chronic diseases previously thought to arise only in adult life."

Respiratory problems in old age are increased by maternal smoking and exposure atmospheric pollutants; obesity increases the risk that a woman and her children and grandchildren will develop diabetes - a condition responsible for the loss of a staggering 288,000 working years, and almost £24 billion in direct and indirect costs.

On scientific and economic, no less, moral grounds, the case for investing in child health as a mechanism for building a prosperous, resilient, and forward looking society is now compelling. Recognition of this potential seems overdue. This is why the RCPCH wants to see children’s health and policy research strengthened and a cross-party, cross-departmental child health and wellbeing strategy implemented that will be upheld across successive Parliaments. This will serve the nation well.

 


The RCPCH is an independent body and are not affiliated with any of the brands included in this campaign. Professor Neena Modi does not advocate the use of any one product over that of another. Neither the RCPCH, nor Professor Modi, has received any payment for this article.