Poverty taking toll on health of Northern Ireland's children, experts say
Almost one in four children in Northern Ireland live in poverty, according to a report by health experts.
The large number with deprived backgrounds is having a harmful impact on the health and well being of the region's young people, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) claimed.
The RCPCH's State Of Child Health Northern Ireland report launched on Thursday found that:
:: an estimated 23% of children are reported to live in poverty
:: 28% of children are overweight or obese
:: less than 28% of babies at six weeks receive any breastmilk, the lowest level in the UK
The study drew together data on 25 measures of child health, ranging from specific conditions such as asthma, diabetes and epilepsy, through to risk factors including obesity, low breastfeeding rates, and mortality.
Dr Karl McKeever, RCPCH officer for Ireland, said: "We can't afford to ignore the fact that child health is not as good as it should be in Northern Ireland.
"Poverty is having a devastating effect on families, with smoking and drinking alcohol, poor mental health and obesity amongst children and young people all more likely to affect those from the most deprived backgrounds.
"Today we're bringing together experts from across the health sector, and beyond, to agree how child health should be prioritised and how we can ensure these issues are high on the political agenda.
"The current political vacuum makes it difficult to enact policy change.
"But ultimately, the state of child health will not improve without bold action from policy makers to ensure that every child, no matter where they are born, has the best possible chance of leading a healthy life."
The report makes a series of recommendations, including:
:: implementation of a child poverty strategy in Northern Ireland
:: introduce proposed ban on smoking in cars when children are present
:: introduce of minimum unit pricing for alcohol
:: regular survey commissioned by the Northern Ireland Executive to identify the prevalence of mental health problems among children and young people in order to aid the planning of mental health care services
:: appropriate mental health support offered in all primary and post primary schools in Northern Ireland
Dr McKeever added: "Many of the illnesses that appear in adults have their roots in childhood, so by investing and intervening early, we're much more likely to create a healthier population."