The Labour party has launched a Child Health Forum for experts and parents alike as part of a move to prioritise children’s healthcare in their opposition policy.
A survey from Public Health England (PHE) and Disney has revealed that the number of children exercising for the recommended daily hour falls by 40% between ages five and 12, with more than a third of children considered overweight by the time they leave primary school.
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Speaking to the Royal College of Paediatricians on 17 July, shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth labelled the state of children’s health in the UK ‘shameful’ and committed Labour to making the wellbeing of young people its ‘national priority’.
He said: ‘We know that what a child experiences in the womb and through its early years has a profound effect on the rest of its life. The message is clear – if we don’t get children’s health right we will never have a healthy adult population in this country.
‘The shameful picture of child health in England is terrifyingly real and should be receiving urgent attention from all who are concerned about the future health and well-being of our country, and particularly, its children.
‘In the absence of government leadership and action on child health, Labour will, over the next 12 months, convene a series of workshops which will draw together the evidence and expertise that we know exists in abundance in the field of child health.’
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Mr Ashworth told the college that there were estimated to be over 2 million children with health-related vulnerabilities, including 800,000 with mental health disorders. He said half of all lifetime cases of psychiatric disorders start by age 14 and three quarters by age 24.
PHE described the results of its survey as ‘concerning’, with 79% of parents saying their children were happier when active, but children’s happiness is declining as they grow up and become less active. Of five and six year olds, 64% said they were always happy but only 48% of 11 year olds said the same.
Fiona Smith, lead for children’s health at the Royal College of Nursing, said: ‘Children’s health is in crisis, with obesity, mental health problems and numerous other issues spiralling out of control.
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‘School nurses and health visitors lay the essential foundations for children to lead healthy lives, ensuring that every child receives the care and support they need. Interacting with children in their daily lives, these are the nurses who can spot signs of difficulty and intervene before problems escalate.
‘It is truly absurd that we are losing these critical staff at a time when our children need them more than ever before. If staff numbers continue to plummet the government will have to face the dangerous consequences – for both children and the future adult population.’
Change4Life launched a national '10 Minute Shake Ups' programme with Disney and schools across the country to get children engaged in physical activity over the summer holidays.
PHE's national lead for children Eustace de Souza said: 'Getting into the habit of doing short bursts of activity early can deliver lifelong benefits. This programme is part of our work to help children get the right amount of physical activity, both in school and out, as set out in the Childhood Obesity Plan.'