The report published today by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) found more than 210,000 Scottish children are living in poverty, 27 per cent are overweight or obese and 400 children die each year with a “significant number” of deaths potentially avoidable.
Last night health experts called for urgent action and opposition politicians attacked the Scottish Government for failing to do enough to alleviate poverty or tackle the crisis.
The report showed that obesity rates were worse in deprived areas. More than 29 per cent of pregnant women in the most deprived areas are smokers. Only 15.4 per cent of mothers in the most deprived areas were exclusively breastfeeding at the 6-8 week review, compared to 53 per cent of mothers in the least deprived.
The RCPCH State of Child Health document brought together data for the first time on 25 measures ranging from specific child health conditions such as asthma, diabetes and epilepsy.
On the positive side, Scotland led the way with high vaccination rates, few cases of tooth decay and a decline in suicide rates amongst young people.
But the report added: “Child health in Scotland is amongst the poorest in western Europe.”
Dr Steve Turner, RCPCH officer for Scotland said: “There are significant gaps and the problem of health inequalities is continuing to grow.
“It is startling that over 29 per cent of pregnant women in the most deprived areas are smokers, compared to just 4.5 per cent in the least deprived, putting babies at risk of complications during pregnancy and birth and increasing the likelihood of cot death or still birth.
“Before a child is even born they are set on a path to ill health. This simply cannot be allowed to continue.”
The report recommends extending the smoking ban to school grounds, sports fields and playgrounds, raising awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding, and measuring child health rates more regularly.
Dr Turner added: “In addition to specific actions, we want to see Scottish Government 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.
“Healthy children make healthy adults, so it makes not only moral, but economic sense to invest early.”
The report’s findings led to the SNP’s opponents criticising the Scottish Government.
Scottish Conservative public & mental health spokesman Miles Briggs said:“The truth of the matter is that the SNP has been in charge for ten years now and these hugely concerning findings lie firmly at the Nationalists’ door.”
Labour Inequalites spokeswoman Monica Lennon said: “After a decade of SNP government Scotland is amongst the poorest countries in western Europe for child health. That is simply appalling. This report highlights the failings of the SNPs decade in power to halt the impact deprivation has on a raft of health and wellbeing issues from smoking to breastfeeding.”
Public health minister Aileen Campbell said: “We agree that our children’s health should be a priority for all.
“This is why this government has committed to ensuring the best start for all our children.
“The State of Child Health report recommendations provide focus to develop this further, including delivering on our Programme for Government a commitment to produce a child health and wellbeing strategy.”