UK & World News
Investing In Kids' Health 'Could Save Billions'
Investing in children's health could save the NHS billions of pounds in the future, according to the Chief Medical Officer.
Professor Dame Sally Davies said poverty, obesity and poor mental health are damaging children's long-term prospects.
But if the Government, health and social services and schools do more to help, the life chances of Britain's children could be changed for the better, she said.
Evidence presented in her new report on the state of child health suggests that reducing obesity among children by just 1% could lower their risk of long-term health problems, saving the NHS £1bn each year.
"My generation unquestioningly expected our future to be better than our parents' and grandparents'," said Prof Davies.
"But our children and grandchildren face a far more challenging outlook. We need a renewed focus on children.
"This report questions whether we have got the balance right in our society and should act as a wake-up call."
Prof Davies painted a bleak picture of children's health:
:: As many as 27% of UK children are in, or at serious risk of being in, poverty - compared with 16% in the Netherlands.
:: Obesity affects nearly 13% of toddlers, and 16% of girls and 17% of boys under the age of 15.
:: 10% of adolescents at any one time suffer from a mental health problem.
The Chief Medical Officer said the Healthy Start Vitamin Programme, which currently hands out supplements in some areas of high deprivation, could be extended to all children.
A pilot study in Birmingham showed that since all parents of young children were offered free vitamin D, cases of the bone disease rickets have halved.
Prof Davies called on Public Health England to assess the most effective ways of promoting healthy lifestyles for children.
And she proposed a national children's week to celebrate young people and push for cultural change to improve long-term health.
Dr Hilary Emery, chief executive of the National Children's Bureau said: "It is unacceptable that five more children die each day of avoidable causes than in Sweden.
"The UK must have greater expectations for children's health if we are to be the best place in the world for children to grow up.
"As a nation we must be much more ambitious about giving every child the best start in life, and this should be a priority for all decision-makers in central and local Government."
Children's Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter said: "We know that children who grow up happy and healthy are much more likely to work hard, do better at school and later in life.
"So it is crucial we get this right and give each and every child the very best start in life.
"We have already started a lot of good work and are heavily investing in support for mums, families and children in the early years."