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Physical and mental health for young children
Physical and mental health for young children

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2.1 Patterns of child health in the past 50 years

Geographic inequalities

Parallel to socioeconomic inequalities affecting the health of babies and children, there are inequalities according to where a child lives. You have already read in Section 1 how babies in low- and middle-income countries suffer more ill-health and higher death rates than those in wealthier nations.

In wealthier countries like the UK, too, there are within-country differences in children’s illness and death rates and in access to good health services. Research such as Health and deprivation: inequality and the North (Townsend et al., 1988; Phillimore et al., 1994) highlighted that where people lived affected how healthy they were. For example, in one electoral ward (small geographic area linked to the local authority) six per cent of babies were of low birth weight, while in another it was four times higher. The studies used two indicators to compare health with deprivation:

  • The Overall Health Index included, among other things, low birthweight and delayed development rates in children.
  • The Overall Deprivation Index including unemployment, overcrowding, car ownership and home ownership.

Their conclusion was the following: ‘The association between poor health and material deprivation is statistically highly significant’ (Phillimore et al., 1994). Two-thirds of the difference in health between these populations was linked to differences in their standard of living.