RCPCH State of Child Health report

One year on and investment in breastfeeding still needed

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23 January 2018

One year on from the publication of its landmark report revealing alarming inequalities in the health and wellbeing of children in the UK, RCPCH has published a scorecard to measure how the UK is performing against 12 recommendations to improve child health. Its recommendations include a need to better support breastfeeding to urgently improve both child and maternal health.

The scorecard demonstrates that whilst some progress has been made, for example with plans for a soft drinks industry levy, the majority of issues have not been addressed and, in the case of public health funding, the situation is worsening. In particular, recommendations to improve breastfeeding rates, for example by supporting maternity units to go Baby Friendly and reinstating the UK-wide Infant Feeding Survey have not been met. RCPCH have criticised the UK’s central government’s disjointed approach to improving child health, pointing to a lack of an overarching child health strategy and no increased investment in child health research.

The State of Child Health report provides a snapshot of child health and wellbeing in the UK, ranging from specific conditions such as asthma, diabetes and epilepsy, risk factors for poor health such as obesity and a low rate of breastfeeding, to child deaths.

It demonstrates the urgent need to respond to vast health inequalities between rich and poor communities in the UK, with infant mortality being more than twice as high in the lowest compared with the highest socio-economic groups. The UK ranks 15 out of 19 Western European countries on infant mortality, a major cause of concern for the future of the UK’s children.

One of the key findings of the report is the important role that breastfeeding plays in determining health in childhood and beyond. Despite overwhelming evidence of the substantial benefits to child and maternal health, the UK has some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world, with a clear disparity in rates between higher (65%) and lower (46%) socio-economic groups. In response, the report recommends that each UK Government develops cross-departmental support for breastfeeding; this should include a national public health campaign and a sector wide approach that includes employers, to support women to breastfeed. The report also calls for national oversight and responsibility for recording high quality data to inform metrics of child health and wellbeing. It notes significant variation across the UK in the availability of information, and the resultant difficulties in targeting services.

Read the full report.

Our Call to Action urges UK governments to take four key steps to improve breastfeeding rates. We want to change the conversation around breastfeeding, recognising that it is time to stop laying the blame for a major public health issue in the laps of individual women, and instead recognise the need for breastfeeding support in community, healthcare and governmental levels. Find out more and add your voice to the campaign.

We are calling on each Government across the UK to adopt a ‘child health in all policies approach’. That means that whatever policies are made, from whatever Government department, they must consider the impact on child health.

If politicians are serious about improving our nation’s health, then they have to think long term. And that means investing in children. It has to be our ambition for the health of the UK’s children to be amongst the best in the world; anything less and we are failing current and future generations.
Professor Russell Viner, RCPCH Officer for Health Promotion