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

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3.2 Contemporary child health concerns

What are the main concerns for young children’s health in the UK today? This section will highlight some of the biggest health challenges that children face. Later in the course, in Session 4, each of these challenges will be examined in more detail. For now, Table 5 gives an overview of the key issues.

Table 5 Preventable non-communicable and communicable physical child health concerns
Obesity and poor nutrition The UK currently faces a childhood obesity epidemic, with almost 1 in 5 children leaving primary school obese (Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), 2015). Obesity in children is serious and can lead to later physical health conditions including asthma and diabetes (Musgrave, 2017, p. 96). As the RSPH explains, health and early years practitioners are perfectly placed to have healthy conversations with expectant and new parents, but they need support and training (RSPH, 2015).
Poor dental health Around one in four (23%) 5-year-olds in the UK have had dental decay, affecting an average of three teeth (Public Health England, 2020). The consumption of foods and drinks containing sugar are a particular problem.
Pollution Air pollution is a serious threat to children’s health. Nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, who lived near the South Circular Road in Lewisham, south-east London, died in 2013. In 2020, she was the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as the cause of death on their death certificate (BBC News 2021). Air pollution ‘can stunt the lung growth of children which means they run a higher risk of developing chronic illnesses as they grow’ (Royal College of Physicians (RCP), 2022).
Infectious diseases Although infections are less of a risk of death for children since immunisations were introduced, they can still cause illness and distress (Musgrave, 2017, p. 104). We have all become aware of the importance of reducing the spread of infections throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and we all have a role to play in preventing the spread of infections such as the common cold and norovirus, too.
Mental ill-health The stresses and strains of family life, particularly where there are additional factors of poverty or breakdown of relationships, can impact on a young child’s mental health. One in six children aged 5–16 are likely to have a mental health problem (Children’s Society, 2022). In the next section, you will look at the links between physical and mental health, and ways to support good physical and mental health in young children.