Category Archives: Children

Mean societies produce mean people

Babies haven’t changed much for millennia. Give or take a few enzymes this perfectly designed little bundle of desires and interests has not needed to evolve much. Of all primates, the human is the most immature at birth, after which brain growth accelerates and is ‘wired’ according to the kinds of experience the infant has. Provided there are a few familiar and affectionate people there to care continuously for him or her, baby will be fine. If not, evolution has taken care of that too. You live in a cruel world and treat him roughly? He will develop into a compulsively self-reliant and ruthless individual with little concern for others. Mean societies produce mean people. Through attentive care in the early years we may hope to produce thoughtful, curious and confident young people but our social arrangements are essentially hostile and competitive. Having a baby is regarded as an expensive undertaking rather than as a contribution to the future of society.

Encouraged by successive governments our world is geared to markets. “It’s the economy, stupid” means you can’t do anything without considering the immediate cost. The more this idea takes hold the stupider we become. The current government’s dedication to continuous welfare cuts hits children disproportionately. Neoliberalism is the enemy of children.

Evolutionary imperatives

This is not the environment in which humans evolved. An infant in a hunter-gatherer band – the way we all lived for 99% of our time on the planet – would have spent many hours being held, and not only by the mother. “Infants with several attachment figures grow up better able to integrate multiple mental perspectives”. We are programmed from the start to seek out third positions, to acquire the “capacity for seeing ourselves in interaction with others and for entertaining another point of view whilst retaining our own, for reflecting on ourselves whilst being ourselves.”

Systematic comparisons between sedentary foraging and farming people living now in neighbouring parts of the Congo basin show how much more egalitarian the foragers are. Men and women see themselves as equal. They hold and converse with their tiny children more intensively, they let the baby decide when to wean and teach them to share from an early age. Violence is rare, though teasing is common. Such children are more socialised than in the west and at the same time protected from catastrophe in the event of the mother’s death. Amongst the farmers, in contrast, “corporal punishment is not an uncommon response for young children who do not listen to or respect their parents or older siblings”.

In the modern world little public money is available for perinatal services, parental leave, for quality child care and universal education, affordable and secure homes, healthy food, subsidised transport and energy, sports fields, swimming pools, libraries, parks and playgrounds that make rearing children and adolescents more manageable and more successful. Tax, like children, is seen as a ‘burden’. So governments of all parties sign up to reducing it, yet still find money for bank bailouts and unsustainable wars. Whether local or national, tax should be a contribution to the common good, an instrument of social justice. It is collected from citizens, for citizens. In the current climate this equation is neither acknowledged nor understood. Yet something has been understood that was not clear before. There is a greater recognition that early intervention is a good idea: “the brain can be sculpted by experience”; the sooner the better.

Start at the beginning

When a woman becomes pregnant her physical and mental states impact on her child. From conception onwards the health and resilience of children – and the adults they will become – is compromised by stress, diet, maternal weight, drugs, genes and insecurity in their parents. Besides the impact on the mother herself, anxiety and depression during pregnancy and after it have significant long term effects on the child’s physical and mental health – particularly on boys – generating huge social costs. Pregnancy is a dangerous time for some women. The most socially deprived mothers are more likely to have very premature births or perinatal death. Low birthweight leads to poor outcomes; early intervention can reduce that.

Elegant research shows how already by a few months old babies are engaged in triadic relationships; they are affected by tensions between the adults caring for them. When caregivers are uncooperative infants may be “enlisted to serve the parents’ problematic relationship rather than to develop their own social competence”. Children will more likely thrive if caregivers – parents and grandparents, childminders, daycare and children’s centre staff, nursery teachers – get on with one another, like a good team. “Communication between parents and care providers is crucial to the quality of care.”

The routine availability and presence of health visitors and other staff supporting new parents and of Sure Start centres for children and families create the conditions for reliable care of children. In a context of skilled early years provision, infants whose parents are paid to spend time with them in the early months are less likely to die. “A ten week extension in paid leave is predicted to decrease post neonatal mortality rates by 4.1%”. This remarkable finding represents just the tip of an iceberg of developmental damage and pathology, modifiable by intensive early support for families.

Better training and pay for early years staff improves outcomes and reduces turnover. UK needs to learn from continental Europe the tradition of pedagogic professions: proper pay, status and training for the job, particularly when the families most in need are hard to engage. Looking after small children is demanding and stressful, requiring continuous professional development such as reflective discussion groups in which colleagues both support and learn from each other. Work with young families is a professional skill.

Inequality undermines trust

A collaborative partnership between caregivers does not in itself cost money, but is undermined by social disintegration, the most poisonous source of which is rising inequality. In Britain this has reached levels not seen since the 1920s. The much maligned 1970s was actually the most egalitarian in our history. Consider this: one index of social health is the number of boys born in comparison to girls. Because the male fetus is more vulnerable to maternal stress, women produce fewer boys when times are hard. (For example there is a fall in the ratio of boys to girls a few months after disasters such as massive floods or earthquakes, or the terrorist attack on 9/11). In England and Wales the highest ratio of boys to girls occurred in 1975. In terms of contented mothers it was the best of times.

Inequality creates stress in parents who can’t keep up, and anxiety in the better off who fear sliding down. No one is comfortable on a steep slope. It makes all of us less trusting and more averse to communal commitments, such as respecting our neighbours and paying tax. Infant mortality, mental illness, drug abuse, dropping out of education, rates of imprisonment, obesity, teenage births and violence are all higher in unequal countries like ours.

Though often disappointed, our ancient baby is born to expect some kind – a rather conservative kind – of socialism. What will today’s infants be talking about in 2050? If they know any history they will regret lost opportunities; our collective loss of vision that led to wasted generations. The success of the post war consensus was due in part to the fact that it lasted longer than one or two parliamentary terms, so that children could grow up, get educated and housed, find partners, get work and free healthcare without overwhelming instability or despair. The needs of a baby born today are precisely what they were for one born in the 1950s, or 50,000 years ago. New knowledge of infant development is catching up with evolved wisdom, yet we continue to ignore both, and build bigger obstacles to secure attachments.

 

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How do early circumstances influence us later in life? Previous studies have found that socio-economic factors in early life can continue to have persistent impacts throughout one’s life and, coupled with circumstances in adulthood, jointly contribute to later health. Understanding these influences can therefore be beneficial to policies aiming to reduce health inequalities. This is why studies using longitudinal data, and especially those sampling a specific cohort, are particularly useful in disentangling the relationship between early life and later health.

The 1958 British National Child Development Study (NCDS) makes available rich data, ideal for this line of study. The NCDS has followed over 17,000 individuals born in 1958 for 50 years, providing information across different domains (e.g. physical, social, and health) and at different stages in life. Yet socio-economic circumstances are difficult to measure in practice, because they are multi-dimensional and sometimes unobserved. So, how can we represent complex pathways by realistic statistical models?

Our research proposes a structural model that connects the socio-economic circumstances in childhood, partnership history in adulthood, and health in midlife (Figure 1). Around 50% of individuals in our British cohort (currently in their 60s) grew up in families with unfavourable conditions in at least one of the four dimensions of socio-economic circumstances that were identified in the early phases of the study.

Effects of childhood circumstances

Figure 1: Path diagram showing the effects of childhood socio-economic circumstances (SECs) on later health

Having performed the analysis, we are able to formulate four sets of conclusions.

  1. Do childhood socio-economic circumstances directly influence midlife health?

We find that the estimated effects of father’s social class, financial difficulty, and material hardship in childhood on midlife health to be significant and similar in magnitude, before and after controlling for partnership experiences. This suggests the influence of these factors during one’s childhood are long-lasting and persistent, and that those with unfavourable conditions in these aspects are significantly more likely to be in poor health at age 50 (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Predicted population-average probabilities of being in poor health state at age 50 for each level of childhood socio-economic circumstances

 probabilities of being in poor health state at age 50 for each level of childhood socio-economic circumstances

Note: Marginal probabilities are computed keeping all the other covariates fixed at their observed values for each individual. Individual-specific random effects are simulated from the estimated distribution.
  1. Do partnership experiences influence midlife health?

We find that individuals who have formed their first partnership later in life tend to have a lower risk when it comes to developing health issues at age 50. Also, among those who have started the first partnership at the same time, cohort members who have spent longer time single before the age of 50 have a higher chance to be in poor health in midlife.

  1. Are there any indirect effects of childhood socio-economic circumstances on midlife health?

The results suggest that an unstable family structure in childhood pushes up the likelihood of poor midlife health but the effect is not directly transmitted: rather, only through an indirect path via one’s own partnership experiences. We find that unstable family structure significantly increases the likelihood of the early formation of first union and that of subsequent dissolutions.

Back to the health submodel, cohort members who formed the first partnership early are significantly more likely to be in poor health in midlife, and those with shorter partnership episodes, i.e. those who spent a higher percentage of time single, have a relatively higher risk to develop health issues at age 50. The evidence confirms the hypothesis that the influence of childhood socio-economic circumstances on midlife health is partially mediated by partnership experiences.

  1. Do different partnership experiences share common influences not captured by observed characteristics?

Our analyses find that such shared influences do exist. Certain individuals who form their first relationship early tend to be less likely to suffer a relationship breakdown. In the future phases of the study, we will investigate the individual-specific characteristics relevant to this correlation – such as whether those with a mutual interest in being in a quality relationship tend to maintain the union, lowering the risk of separation.

First published on the British Politics and Policy blog

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So what is Jeremy Hunt doing about it?

Obesity was a factor in more than 525,000 hospital admissions last year, and obesity rates have risen from 15% in 1993 to 27% in 2015. Child health experts describe the level of childhood obesity in the United Kingdom as a “state of emergency”.

As a GP with over 30 years’ experience, I can state that the vast majority of consultations are for conditions such as diabetes and heart disease – linked to lifestyle or diet. I would estimate that 50-70% of costs to the NHS would be not just reduced but eliminated if patients’ diet and exercise regimes were improved.

Children born since the 1980s are up to three times more likely than older generations to be overweight or obese by the age of 10. The number of overweight children admitted to hospital has risen from 872 in 2000 to 3,806 in 2009. And over the past decade, the UK has seen a four-fold rise in youngsters needing medical attention as a consequence of being obese.

I am distressed that poor diet is such a feature of the lives of our children and young people. Barring genetic or catastrophic disease, accidents and maybe the ageing process itself, our health is in our hands. Central to tackling this is creating an environment where it is normal, easy and enjoyable for children and young people to eat healthily.

At best, politicians pay lip service to the problem – at worst, they play politics.

Jeremy Hunt has described the rise in childhood obesity as a “national emergency” – and when he was appointed health secretary in September 2012, he promised a “game-changing” response.

It’s been more than four years since the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges submitted a 10-point plan, following a one-year review of the evidence on policies to tackle the obesity epidemic. Its proposals included a tax on sugary drinks, banning junk food advertising to children, restrictions on fast food outlets near schools and compulsory nutritional standards in hospitals.

The government published its childhood obesity plan for action in August 2016. The plan, heavily influenced by food and drinks lobbyists, was a watered-down version of proposals the government had been preparing to publish. Except for a levy on sugar-sweetened beverages, no other proposal has been implemented.

This week at the Conservative party conference in Manchester, Hunt repeated the same message – while wearing a Tate & Lyle lanyard. Prof Russell Viner, health promotion officer at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “It’s a really poor choice of sponsor and sends a very mixed message. On the one hand the government says it’s determined to tackle obesity and to bring in the sugar tax. On the other, they’re giving major prominence to a sugar company at their conference.”

According to Prof Robert Lustig, a child obesity expert at the University of San Francisco, sugar (including sweeteners) and processed carbohydrate are the biggest culprits in childhood obesity. He describes sugar as being addictive and toxic and has called for a ban on the sale of sugary drinks to under-17s and a consumer tax on any substance with added sugar.

I accept that the government has to tread a difficult line between telling us what to eat and letting “Big Food” feed us junk food and sugary drinks without any disincentive – but that’s what government is for. It took us far too long to agree to real action against smoking.

As cases of both type 2 diabetes and obesity continue to rise exponentially, Hunt must act urgently and decisively. The government needs to take more robust action to tackle the impact of deep discounting and price promotions on the sales of unhealthy food and drink. As a first step, the health secretary should accept and implement all the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges’ proposals as a matter of urgency.

Let’s deal with obesity now before it overwhelms the health service.

First published in the Guardian

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Delivered to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health  11 July 2017

Good morning and can I start by paying tribute to the Royal College and to thank you for hosting me today. It is a pleasure to be at this great Royal College. A Royal College embarking on celebrating 21 years since granted a Royal Charter, 21 years where you have spoken out for children and ensured the voices of children are heard at the very highest level.

It was Nelson Mandela who told us: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” If that great man was right, then our country is in a great deal of difficulty. The state of children’s health in the UK, and in England in particular, should be a matter for profound concern and concerted action. But sadly currently it isn’t.

We can point to nearly any element of children’s health, from care for disabled children, to child and adolescent mental health, to childhood injury, and, to childhood obesity. In all those areas we find examples of good practice but the overall picture reflects social inequality and failure, sometimes on a massive scale.

And my argument today is despite all the other challenges that face us as policy makers, from how we navigate Brexit with its inevitable impact on the NHS or we confront the fiscal and societal challenges of an ageing population, we must not allow the health and wellbeing of the next generation to be neglected and overlooked.

So as Labour’s shadow health secretary, I want to put children’s health at the heart of Labour’s vision for a 21st Century National Health Service, and at the heart of our drive to improve the health of our nation.

It’s an ambition that has long been part of my Party’s mission. In the Labour manifesto of 1945 we stated: “Labour will work specially for the care of Britain’s mothers and their children – children’s allowances and school medical and feeding services, better maternity and child welfare services.”

During the recent general election campaign, in which the future of the NHS played such a central role, we quite deliberately placed a focus on children’s health – talking of an ambition to make Britain’s children the healthiest in the world.

So today I want to say a bit more about why children’s health is so central to my vision to improve the wellbeing of the country.

And I’m also here today to announce Labour’s new Child Health Forum, where we’re inviting experts like yourselves, and members of the public across the country, to get involved with developing the detail of our policy platform.

We know that what a child experiences in the womb and through its early years has a profound effect on the rest of its life. As the review into health inequalities carried out by Sir Michael Marmot and commissioned by the last Labour government stated:

“The foundations for virtually every aspect of human development – physical, intellectual and emotional – are laid in early childhood. What happens during these early years, starting in the womb, has lifelong effects on many aspects of health and wellbeing – from obesity, heart disease and mental health, to educational achievement and economic status.”

The message is clear – if we don’t get children’s health right we will never have a healthy adult population in this country.

Yet when we consider how we are placed internationally we see the United Kingdom is not doing well in key areas of child health compared to other countries in Europe. For example, the rate of deaths to children under the age of one year old is higher than all our neighbouring countries and considerably higher than Scandinavian countries.

Breastfeeding remains lower than many other comparable countries; we fare poorly on aspects of physical health such as obesity.

Just last week the Children’s Commissioner revealed that there are estimated to be over two million children with health-related vulnerabilities, including 800,000 with mental health disorders.

Sadly the Government’s response to the issue of child health has been piecemeal, fragmented and unstrategic.

Indeed the Sustainability and Transformation programme have had shamefully little to say about improving children’s health and wellbeing.

In the general election we said we would halt these plans and review whether they’re really delivering for patients. Whatever the future of STPs today, a big test of them will be whether they deliver for children.

And now we see the consequences of the lack of an overarching approach. Let me offer three examples.

Firstly on immunisation. It doesn’t matter whether it is vaccination against measles, mumps, rubella, meningitis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and even polio.

Immunisation rates are falling and, in some cases, have been on a downwards slide for each of the last three years. Children in England are not being protected as well as children in the rest of the UK.

In the official report on immunisation, vaccination coverage in England at one, two and five years of age was, for all reported vaccinations, below that of the other UK countries.

Secondly in the crucial area of childhood obesity, we are currently failing our children on an enormous scale.

Not only has the government’s feeble effort at a childhood obesity strategy fallen flat but they continue to push through massive cuts to public health and education budgets.

They even tried, and hopefully it would seem failed, to deprive children in the first three years of primary school of their free school lunch.

It’s important to recognise that childhood obesity not only leaves children susceptible to major health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and cancer in later life, but, during childhood it also is associated with poor psychological and emotional health due to issues such as stigmatisation, bullying and low self-esteem.

But despite all of the evidence, there is a profound lack of action – and the result is that levels of obesity amongst our schoolchildren are continuing to increase.

More than one in three children in year six in our primary schools are either overweight or obese – and there is little sign of the problem doing anything other than getting worse.

If the crisis in childhood obesity is not tackled, half of all UK children will be obese or overweight by 2020.

Not only is it a betrayal of the nation’s children it makes no sense for the future sustainability of the NHS either.

The UK spends about £6 billion a year on the medical costs of conditions related to being overweight or obese and a further £10 billion on diabetes, but less than £638 million a year on obesity prevention programmes. Unless we act we are building up future pressures on the NHS.

Thirdly, perhaps the Government’s biggest failing is on Children’s Mental Health.

Half of all lifetime cases of psychiatric disorders start by age 14 and three quarters by age 24.

Around 13% of boys and 10 per cent of girls aged 11-15 have mental health problems – at least three young people in every classroom.

Suicide is the leading cause of death in young people aged 15-24. Supporting our young people’s mental health is crucial, particularly through prevention and early intervention.

Yet just 11% of children’s mental health needs are met by the NHS while the NHS spends 14 times more on adult mental health than the children and adolescents’ service.

We know that in in many parts of the country CAMHS budgets are raided to fund wider gaps in the NHS because of the lack of ring fence.

Cuts in one part of the system as usual lead to pressures elsewhere in the NHS. Indeed today I’m publishing our new analysis from the House of Commons Library that shows the number of young people presenting at A&E with mental health problems has risen 33% over three years.

The backdrop to all this is of course inequality in health and rising child poverty.

For example, infant mortality, an area where the UK has one of the worst records in Europe, is more than twice as high in the lowest socio-economic groups in our society compared with the most well-off.

Similarly, obesity is twice as common amongst children living in the most deprived areas as compared to children in the most privileged areas.

Your own RCPCH report, State of Child Health, from earlier this year makes clear: “Children living in our wealthiest areas have health outcomes that match the best in the world. But the gaps between the rich and the poor are stark, and some of the outcomes amongst our deprived groups are amongst the worst in the developed world.”

The number of children living below the poverty line has increased by 400,000 since 2010, reversing a decade of major progress under Labour. At a local level, the figures are even more appalling: in some areas as many as 47% of children live in poverty.

A boy born in Chelsea has a life expectancy of over 84 years. Yet just five miles away, a boy born in Islington can only expect to live to around 75 years of age.

Child poverty is a scar across Britain and one we’re determined to confront.

A third of the most deprived children are predicted to be overweight or obese by 2020 compared to just under a fifth of the most affluent.

And 5-year-olds in the most deprived constituencies are almost seven times more likely to live with dental disease than their peers in Jeremy Hunt’s local authority in Surrey.

So improving the health of all our children regardless of their background is central to Labour’s health strategy. Put simply, no child will be left behind under the next Labour Government.

Just as the last Labour Government had as its driving mission to eliminate child poverty, so for me as Health Secretary in the next Labour Government it will be a driving mission to defeat child poverty and child ill health.

So what should our response be?

Our starting point will be familiar to everyone engaged in the debate about the future of the NHS, namely workforce and resources.

So first on workforce.

Today you have published new evidence of the strain on the paediatric workforce.

Prior to reaching consultant level, children’s doctors train for around eight years.

This study shows that almost one in five of paediatric trainee positions are currently vacant even though trainees themselves report high levels of enthusiasm for the speciality.

Even more alarming is that this figure jumps to nearly one in four in more senior trainee positions, and almost 90% of children’s units express concern over how they will cope over the coming six months.

I’m also publishing today new analysis of the community child health workforce with 10% of school nurses, 11% of health visitors and 12% of district nurses lost to the NHS in the past two years.

It’s a scandalous loss of expertise and particularly concerning against a backdrop of a drop in nurse trainees.

As if the cuts to the current workforce aren’t bad enough, there appears to be no account being taken of the growth taking place in the overall number of children. In the next ten years, the number of 0 to 16 year olds in the UK is projected to grow by almost 700,000.

So, to make sure all children have access to the services they are entitled to, and to reduce health inequalities, we are committed to investing in the child health and public health workforce.

We would ask Public Health England and Health Education England to work together to identify how the public health workforce will need to be developed and shaped to support the UK’s new ambition of having the healthiest children in the world.

But it’s not only in the area of workforce that the government are failing our children:

This Government’s failures in acute services are well documented. The sustained underfunding of the NHS has pushed staff to the brink and has caused a collapse in patient standards. Waiting lists are up, treatments delayed and A&E targets have been abandoned.

Our research reveals the impact this is having for children in hospital.

Procedures to repair broken bones, remove rotten teeth or insert grommets are among more than 40,000 operations that have been cancelled over the last four years.

Over 12,000 surgical procedures on children and young people were cancelled last year alone, that’s an increase of 35% in three years.

These are children waiting in pain and suffering for treatments and, as you in this room know, there will be serious long term effects to their physical and mental wellbeing.

In a separate piece of research we looked at the number of hospitals which have had to close wards because of maintenance problems – one hospital in the North of England told us of a utilities failure in their maternity unit – no electricity throughout the night, beds that couldn’t be adjusted, and no heated mattresses for the babies.

So the NHS’s biggest financial squeeze in history, capital budgets raided, public health budgets siphoned off, with valued early intervention services at risk, and the outcome is that local authority public health services are planning on spending less on 0-5 children’s health this year than last.

It is beyond debate that our NHS and care system now needs more investment.

And at the election Labour pledged a boost of £7bn to turn round NHS services and deliver a long overdue pay rise for staff by scrapping the pay cap.

And we promised to properly and effectively ring fence local authority public health spending in order to protect non-NHS services too.

But for Labour it’s a priority, not only to boost investment in our health and care system, but to make sure that money is used well.

And for me the starting point in gaining best value for health spending is to prioritise prevention.

So improving children’s health services is not only the right thing to do in putting children at the heart of our NHS policy, we will also instigate a new drive for effective action on prevention across government.

Labour strongly supports a ‘Health in All Policies approach’ and there is no better place to start than by addressing the serious problems confronting the country in children’s health.

At the election we began to set out the basics of how this would work:

Labour would introduce a Child Health Bill, legally requiring all government departments to have a child health strategy to set out how they will support this new ambition and to work in an integrated way in order to deliver that strategy.

We want to work with experts like you to develop a new Index of Child Health to measure progress against international standards, looking at for example obesity, dental health, under fives (including breastfeeding, immunisation and childhood mortality), and mental health.

Let me be very clear on this, unlike the current government, we do not shy away from developing clear plans for better child health, neither do we shy away from collecting and publishing the data that can inform those plans.

Labour is not scared of setting targets to improve our children’s health and we have a strong track record of taking the action necessary to achieve our collective goals in improving health.

One of the areas where we face a number of challenges is around diet and nutrition.

I’ve spoken of how the UK has one of the worst childhood obesity rates in Western Europe.

Tooth decay is the single most common reason why children aged five to nine require admission to hospital. More than four in 10 children in England (42%) have not seen an NHS dentist in more than a year even though ideally, they should have a check-up every six months. The role of dental public health has been diminished in recent years, and we will make it a priority.

The Labour Party’s manifesto pledged to halve childhood obesity within ten years. And we would introduce legislation banning junk food advertising from being broadcast before 9pm, stopping unhealthy food from being promoted during primetime television, such as the X Factor, Hollyoaks and Britain’s Got Talent.

Our shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner and shadow public health minister, Sharon Hodgson, pledged to extend free school lunches.

I want to see more schools do what the Charlton Manor School I visited in Greenwich does, where the inspirational head teacher, Tim Baker, has deliberately put healthy eating and nutrition at the heart of the school ethos.

We want also to go further and do more to help mothers and under fives:

Breastfeeding rates in the UK are among the lowest in the world. Just 44% of mothers in England were recorded as breastfeeding at their six to eight week health visitor review in 2014-15.

For Labour in government it will be a priority to offer better support to mothers and to reinstate the infant feeding survey.

We should be considering specific initiatives, like the “1001 Critical Days Strategy”, to give support to mothers from conception to age two.

So Labour would develop a cross-departmental initiative to support breastfeeding, with a national public health awareness campaign promoting breastfeeding, including in the workplace and proper investment in peer support.

We fully understand that a successful approach to breastfeeding requires the time and resources being available to give proper support for new mothers, whilst making sure that mothers who are unable to breastfeed, for whatever reason, are also supported.

Perinatal mental illnesses affect at least 10% of women, but access to mental health services is variable at best. Maternal mental illness approximately doubles the risk of subsequent mental health problems in children.

According to one estimate, the long-term cost to society of a single case of perinatal depression is around £74,000, mostly because of adverse impacts on the child.

The NSPCC have done some excellent work as part of their All Babies Count campaign to make the case for pregnant women and new mums at risk of, or suffering from, mental illness to be identified as early as possible and given appropriate and timely expert care. We agree.

Of course the Prime Minister has promised parity of esteem for mental health – but has so far failed to deliver. Labour’s strategy will be focused on prevention and early intervention, whilst ensuring acute CAMHS receive the money they have been promised.

Labour will work towards eliminating the scandal of Out of Area Placements for acute mental health treatment.

And Labour will introduce statutory high quality PSHE into all schools to ensure teachers, parents and pupils know how to spot, report and cope with online, and other types of abuse and bullying.

We know there are many pressures which can cause adverse childhood experiences from poor housing and deprivation to problems at home. Its time also for a full understanding of the pressures of social media and to ask ourselves what action should be taken.

Social media has revolutionised the manner in which young people communicate with themselves and the outside world.

An increasingly digitised world brings welcome benefits but also negative effects such as cyber-bullying.

The University of Manchester produced a report last week, looking at the common themes in the lives of young people who die by suicide. The study found suicide-related internet use in 26% of deaths in under 20s, and 13%t of deaths in 20-24 year olds, equivalent to 80 deaths per year.

We know that a child growing up with a parent who has alcohol or drug abuse issues can impact on the health and wellbeing of the child. I have worked with an excellent charity called NACOA and I spoke in the House of Commons earlier this year about my own experience as a child of an alcoholic. We believe it’s time to put in place a clear cross-government strategy to support such children.

The shameful picture of child health in England is terrifyingly real and should be receiving urgent attention from all who are concerned about the future health and wellbeing of our country, and particularly, its children.

Of course, there are other extremely important challenges facing us at the present time but that is no excuse for the current disregard for the state of child health.

The Conservative government is squeezing our NHS and taking money from our public health system and our schools.

Labour will make child health a national priority and one which brings together all of the academic, medical and economic expertise that we have in this country, to design and implement a programme that can ensure that, at some point in the not too distant future, we can point to our record on the health of our children with pride rather than dismay.

Labour has a strong track record on improving the health of children and young people. Amongst many other things, we can proudly point to the success of Sure Start and the continuing success of the teenage pregnancy strategy.

We also created a properly resourced public health system that enabled us, for example, to implement, right across the country, the very important Healthy Schools programme.

Much of this success is in danger of being reversed. The raiding of public health budgets and the downgrading of the public health system, including the invaluable network of public health observatories, places us at an enormous disadvantage in taking forward steps on child health.

Nonetheless, despite being in opposition, Labour has shown the way forward on child health. For example, it was Labour that managed to steer through parliament the legislation on protecting children from tobacco smoke in cars and the introduction of standardised cigarette packaging.

In the absence of government leadership and action on child health, Labour will, over the next 12 months, convene a series of workshops which will draw together the evidence and expertise that we know exists in abundance in the field of child health.

We will develop evidence-based and feasible proposals for the action that is needed, not just to halt our relative decline in terms of the health of our children, but to create a dynamic programme for the country that can gain widely based public, professional and political support and which will give our kids the chance to have the healthy childhood they deserve.

So today I’m launching our new Child Health Forum, so that you can feed in your ideas, let us know what you need from the nation’s health and care system, and together we can work to give every child in the UK truly the best possible start in life.

Thank you.

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Labour’s policy is to extend Free School Meals to all pupils in primary schools. We now know that Theresa May wants to take them away from millions of children in infant schools.

This affects children over the whole country, however, a survey commissioned by the London Food Board and carried out by IPSOS Mori found that 74,000 children in London alone regularly go to bed hungry. For many children, the food they get in school at lunchtime is their only nutritious meal of the day. As a long-time campaigner on school food, and co-founder of the Labour Campaign for Free School Meals for All, I genuinely like the idea that every child would be entitled to a free breakfast. However, this must not be at the expense of a healthy lunch. When the previous government introduced Universal Infant Free School Meals – on the basis of evidence provided by pilots commissioned by the Labour government – they recognised that universal free school meals can save families an average of £487 per child per year. They also acknowledged that universal free school meals improve attainment of all children, not just those who would previously have been eligible for free school meals. By committing to scrap universal free school meals for infants, Theresa May is breaking a cross-party consensus on this issue. With experts also saying this will damage attempts to tackle childhood obesity, she is also being short-sighted and mean-spirited.

If you agree that Theresa May is wrong, please sign my petition on Universal Infant Free School Meals and share it with your friends, colleagues and family –

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An Effort to Tackle Child Obesity in the UK

With the threat of childhood obesity looming over the UK, the Labour Party proposes a new child health plan that would ban junk food adverts from TV programs aired before the 9pm watershed. This proposal makes up only part of a future child health bill that will be outlined in Labour’s election manifesto.

Campaigners claim that the ban will decrease children’s viewing of junk food adverts by 82%.

While such adverts are already banned from children’s programs, this more extensive ban would block them from popular programs like The X-Factor, Hollyoaks, and Britain’s Got Talent, which children watch though the shows aren’t specifically marketed toward them.
Party aims
In ten years time, the Labour Party hopes to halve the number of obese children in the UK and thus reduce the £6 billion annual cost of obesity to the National Health Service.

The party would also create a £250 million fund by cutting the amount spent by the NHS on management services annually, which would help provide school nurses and counseling services to English primary and secondary schools.

The future Labour government plans to compare child health care to international standards as part of its “ambition to make Britain’s children the healthiest in the world,”.

An Index of Child Health would compare and evaluate body fat percentage, as well as numerous other health factors, in children; their indicators include obesity, dental health, under-fives, and mental health.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jordan Ashworth observed that many children are obese when they begin school, and that type 2 diabetes in children costs the NHS around £10 billion annually.

“This initiative is good for the children but it is also good for the taxpayer,” Ashworth told BBC.

“We are asking people to think about the impact and asking the advertising industry to recognize by putting their messages into things like Britain’s Got Talent all the time, it is having an effect on children saying they want to eat and drink this stuff.”

At this time, the party would not require food manufacturers to change their salt, fat, and sugar contents, but Ashworth hopes it would encourage a change nonetheless.

Critics
Announced in August, the Conservatives’ childhood obesity plan, which they call “the most ambitious” in the world, is at risk by Labour’s plans. The health select committee and many campaigners complained the Tories’ bill was “weak” and “watered down”. TV chef Jamie Oliver openly criticized the Conservatives for not including an advert ban, which he campaigned to have as part of the Labour plan.
In response, Tory public health spokeswoman Nicola Blackwood defended the plan and expressed economic concerns about the Labour party’s leadership.
“Reducing childhood obesity is vital. That’s why the public health watchdog says that the childhood obesity plan we’ve put in place is the most ambitious in the world, and that’s why we have one of the strictest TV advertising regimes of any country.”
Blackwood went on to claim that these health reform programs “could only be funded by a strong economy which Jeremy Corbyn would risk with his nonsensical economic ideas.”
Meanwhile, the child obesity rate in Britain is expected to reach 30% by the year 2050.
References:

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-39838028

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK299573/

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You should, ideally, take your child for his or her first dental appointment by the age of two, if not sooner. Remember, those baby teeth have to last for another nine or ten years, so they need good care as early as possible.

Starting early means that your child gets used to seeing the dentist and you get to head off potential problems at the pass. There’s a correlation between early dental visits and a lack of dental problems later in life.

You can prepare your child for that crucial first visit well before it happens; it’s a good idea to do this, in fact, because it starts everyone off on the right foot.

Look in your toddler’s mouth at home

If you look into your child’s mouth every day at home – while brushing his or her teeth, or just now and again – then it will hold no fear. Sit facing your child and ask them to open their mouth while you count their teeth. Even before the teeth erupt, you can gently rub their gums with a flannel or a very soft brush, just so it’s a familiar sensation and procedure.

Take your baby to your dental appointments

This is a great way to help your child become familiar with the dentist – the sounds, smells, lights and (hopefully) you having a great old time in the chair. See how your dentist interacts with children; if he or she is a natural, then sign Junior up immediately. If not, ask for a recommendation – the team at Docklands Dental in Dublin prides itself on its rapport with baby teeth.

If you’re nervous, then don’t attempt this – the sight of mum shaking while metal objects are poked into her mouth really won’t have the desired effect.

Talk about the visit beforehand

In the run-up to the visit, talk about it a few times. Tell your child that they’re going to visit someone who likes to count teeth (isn’t that funny?), and in order to let the dentist do that, they’ll have to lie back and have a special light shone into their mouth.

Whatever you do, don’t say it won’t hurt (although, obviously, it won’t!). Just mentioning “hurt” implies there’s a risk of pain or discomfort and this can really scupper things. Do a bit of role-play with a soft toy, or find an age-appropriate book about dentists.

Choose the right time of day

You know your child’s schedule, so try to fix an appointment when you know he or she won’t be tired or hungry. You should also arrive a few minutes early so there’s time to explore, chat up the receptionists and play with the tooth-related toys in the waiting room.

Stay positive

You don’t need to go over the top; just make it sound like going to the dentist is something everyone does and that it’s a good thing (which of course it is!). It’s no big deal, it’s something everyone does once they have teeth and it can be fun.

Don’t force the issue

Sometimes that first visit doesn’t work out. Whatever you do, don’t force your child to sit still; it’s unlikely the dentist will want to proceed anyway. Calmly take your child out of the consulting room and make another appointment for the following month. You may need to do this a couple of times, but it’s worth it in the long-run!

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Nearly one in five children in the UK is living in poverty and inequality is blighting their lives. Those from the most deprived backgrounds experience much worse health compared with the most affluent – a situation that means that UK performs relatively poorly when it comes to child health when compared to other Western European countries.

The State of Child Health brings together data for the first time 25 measures of the health of UK children, ranging from specific conditions such as asthma, diabetes and epilepsy, risk factors for poor health such as obesity and a low rate of breastfeeding, to child deaths.

On nearly all of these measures, children from the poorest backgrounds fare worse.

The tip of the iceberg: child deaths

The UK ranks 15 out of 19 Western European countries on infant (under one year of age) mortality and has one of the highest rates for children and young people in Western Europe. There is a strong association between deprivation and mortality, for example infant mortality is more than twice as high in the lowest compared with the highest socio-economic groups.

Smoking in pregnancy

The prevalence of smoking during pregnancy in the UK is higher than in many European countries (for example 5% in Lithuania and Sweden, compared with 19% in Scotland, 16% in Wales and 15% in Northern Ireland). Smoking in pregnancy increases the likelihood of death, disability, and disease – for example stillbirth, cot death and the risk of respiratory disease across the life-course. There is marked variation in smoking in pregnancy across the UK with a strong association with deprivation; for example in Scotland over a quarter (25.9%) of women in the most deprived areas acknowledged smoking following the birth of their baby, compared with 3.3% in the least deprived areas.

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding has substantial health benefits for mothers and babies and yet breastfeeding rates in England and Scotland has shown minimal improvement since data recording commenced in 1975, with no improvement over the last five years, and remains lower than many other comparable high-income countries. At 6 months, only 34% of babies in the UK are wholly or partially breastfed, compared to 71% in Norway. Across the UK, 46% of mothers in the most deprived areas breastfed compared with 65% in the most affluent areas.

Obesity

Obesity leads to substantially increased risk of serious life-long health problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Across England, Scotland and Wales more than one in five children in the first year of primary school are overweight or obese – and there has been minimal improvement in the prevalence of child overweight and obesity over the past decade. In 2015/2016, 40% of children in England’s most deprived areas were overweight or obese, compared to 27% in the most affluent areas.

Smoking

The percentage of 15-year-old children smoking regularly is 6% in England and 8% in Wales and Scotland – and starting to smoke during adolescence increases the likelihood of being a life-long smoker. Smoking continues to be the greatest single cause of avoidable mortality in the UK. The prevalence of child smoking is much higher amongst children from the most deprived areas; for example in Scotland’s most deprived areas, at least 1 in 10 young people are regular smokers.

Bold action, clear policies

Despite the fact that the health of infants, children and young people in the UK has improved considerably over the last 30 years, the fact that children living in the most deprived areas are much more likely to be in poor health is tragic.

That’s why in State of Child Health, we’re calling for a series of measures, including:

  • Each UK Government to develop a child health and wellbeing strategy, coordinated, implemented and evaluated across the nation

  • Each UK Government to adopt a ‘child health in all policies’ approach

  • UK Government to introduce a ban on the advertising of foods high in saturated fat, sugar and salt in all broadcast media before 9pm
  • Each UK Government to develop cross-departmental support for breastfeeding; this should include a national public health campaign and a sector wide approach that includes employers, to support women to breastfeed
  • An expansion of national programmes to measure the height and weight of infants and children after birth, before school and during adolescence
  • A reversal of public health cuts in England, which are disproportionately affecting children’s services

  • The introduction of minimum unit alcohol pricing in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, in keeping with actions by the Scottish Government

  • UK Government to extend the ban on smoking in public places to schools, playgrounds and hospitals
  • UK Government to prohibit the marketing of electronic cigarettes to children and young people
  • National public health campaigns that promote good nutrition and exercise before, during and after pregnancy

We also want to see each Government across the UK to 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.

Prevention is better than cure

Investing in children makes not only moral sense, but economic sense too. It is well known that many of the mental and physical health problems experienced in adulthood have their roots in childhood. Getting it right early reaps benefits not only for this generation but for generations to come.

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You can stop the thumb sucking habit before it becomes unbearable by introducing a pacifier.

You will want to find the best baby gyms for your child

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Children are natural imitators, so it is logical to assume good dental health could be instilled in kids simply by showing them how to brush their teeth a few times. On the contrary, new reports showing rising tooth decay rates in children indicate that the message of maintaining good oral health has been lost. It seems today that people in general know much more about teeth whitening and other cosmetic dental services than they do about the proper way to brush and floss their teeth. If you want your children to practice exemplary oral health, remember that you are their first and perhaps most important teacher.

baby with toothbrushRoyalty free photo

Use a Rewards Based System

Kids respond well to positive reinforcement, so give them kudos for a job well done when they take dental health seriously. Come up with a way to reward your children when they brush, rinse and floss on their own, but be sure not to encourage them to eat more sweets or sugar. Instead of bribing your children with candy, consider spending more quality time with them one-on-one, or even start a friendly competition if you’re a parent of more than one child. After a time, good dental health will become second nature to your children, and you won’t need to reward them every time they brush their teeth.

Explain How Mouths Stay Healthy

Think about how you can explain the differences between bad and good oral care, then give a description of what happens as a result of each chosen path. It isn’t necessary for you to give your children graphic examples in cases of bad oral hygiene, but it is imperative that you are brutally honest. Your children may be less prone to assume that their teeth will stay healthy on their own once you explain what happens to those who fail to properly care for their teeth. Let your kids see the causes and effects, and allow them to ask questions. This should help them to make informed decisions about their oral hygiene in the future.

Demonstrate Proper Oral Health

Since we already know that showing your kids how to brush a handful of times isn’t enough, consider how you can more effectively demonstrate the basics to them. Brushing your teeth together with your child may be more effective. Realize that your children are going to be watching you even when you’re not aware, so skipping brushing your teeth from time to time can be more serious than you first assumed. Be a great role model for good dental health by making a show of caring for your teeth at all times.

Keep Up With Dentist Appointments

Life with kids can get busy, and you may even need to reschedule dentist appointments from time to time. Ensure that your children know that professional dental care is as important as any other part of their health. Schedule your children to go to the dentist twice per year, and make sure that you don’t put off any important dental procedures for too long. If your kids believe that you think dental care is vital, they are more likely to grow up thinking the same way.

Caring for your child’s teeth is going to be an ordeal until he or she fully grows up. Help your child to get on the right foot by making good dental care a part of both of your daily routines. Simply asking your child if he or she has brushed daily may be enough to inspire proper dental health for life.

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The progress made to boosting the health visiting profession in recent years is, once more, in jeopardy, so much so that 11 organisations, including Unite, wrote to The Times  calling on ‘the government to secure funding for health visiting services’.
 
The personal commitment to health visiting that was one of the few positive hallmarks of David Cameron’s premiership needs to be continued under the new government, otherwise there will be an adverse impact on families, children and the wider public health agenda.
 
A Unite survey of the responses of 565 health visitors in July revealed that health visiting is a demoralised, stressed-out workforce doing loads of unpaid overtime and facing cuts to the profession – at a time when their skills are needed more than ever.
 
Key Unite findings include:
  • 58 per cent of health visitors reported big increases in individual workloads compared with the previous year
  • 44 per cent of health visitors reported a slump in morale/motivation in their workplace, with 81 per cent pinpointing that drop coming from increased workplace stress
  • 70 per cent recorded ‘frequent’ staff shortages in their workplace in the last 12 months
  • 86 per cent say that they ‘always’ or ‘frequently’ work more than their contracted hours, with 71 per cent saying this means more than two hours each week and 31 per cent doing more than four.
  • 62 per cent said all their overtime was unpaid. 
The picture that clearly emerges is that health visiting is a profession under a great deal of pressure as health visitors juggle increasing demands for their vital services with diminishing resources and shrinking pay packets.
 
Ministers need to wake-up to the fact that the progress made by the last government with the Health Visitor Implementation Plan, which boosted the workforce by more than 4,000, could be under serious threat.
 
The situation is further eroded by savage cuts to local government which now has the responsibility for health visiting budgets.
 
This whole sorry saga is compounded  by indications from health secretary Jeremy Hunt that he wants to keep a firm lid on NHS pay, the argument for a decent pay rise for the NHS workforce, which has seen their income in real terms drop by more than 15 per cent since 2010, is irrefutable.
 
Unite will campaigning strongly this autumn to make sure that the vast benefits that a robust health visiting service makes to the health of the nation remains at the top of the domestic political and health agendas.
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The biggest changes come from incremental steps not silver bullets

In the same week that the new mayor of London began the task of watering down his electoral promises the Government published its long-awaited “Plan for Action” for childhood obesity. The anti-obesity lobby attacked it because it lacked some of their favourite state interventions.

David Cameron’s biggest flaw as a politician was to promise actions for which he had either little knowledge as to their impact or little inclination to worry about these future problems. Even before he became Conservative Leader he showed this tendency when he promised the Eurosceptics that the Conservatives would pull out of the European People’s Party (EPP) grouping in the European Parliament. This was at a time when his party was exerting great influence in Brussels, through the EPP, when it had none in Westminster.  Of course the European Referendum was another electoral promise, with unknown consequences. On a smaller scale so was the promise of a high-profile action plan for childhood obesity.

The childhood obesity silver bullets that so many campaigners have been calling for would simply create new hostages to political fortune. At least the sugar levy will raise some money as a hypothecated tax, even with no direct effect on obesity rates.

The same cannot be said of the “junk food” advertising restrictions called for by obesity experts. A few years hence, once this has been shown to have no effect on obesity rates, what next straw does the regulator grasp for? It would certainly need to include greater regulation of social media.  Every time that the state takes action in this way it is also taking responsibility. It reinforces the message that obesity is the result of commercial practice by the food industry, with little to do with individual behaviour. In short, it is someone else’s fault, and the Government can fix it.

During my Department of Health days we were rolling out the first ever concerted public health strategy, the Health of the Nation strategy, comprising “key areas”, each of them replete with firm targets. We faced a powerful lobby by the National Asthma Campaign for a new key area to be created, to tackle the rising incidence of asthma. The Campaign had a very strong case, and it was very well made. But some of the existing key areas were already proving problematic in practice, particularly in mental health. Government simply lacked the appropriate knowledge at the time and the necessary policy levers over human behaviour to hit some of the targets.  Adding another key area on air quality and asthma could exacerbate this problem, raising excessive expectations of what the Government could achieve. There would be huge costs involved, but no clear indication of effectiveness. We had to say no. At the time I worked closely with the National Asthma Campaign to build another way forward that would make a real difference, amidst the disappointment around the rejection of their case. We needed to work on the cause rather than thesymptoms. The same is true of the new obesity strategy. It may not offer silver bullets, but it does indicate a determination to tackle the human problem behind the headlines.

Prime time advertising of “junk foods” is also just symptom of the lifestyles of today’s households. The Government has already gone a long way towards heaping blame on the food industry, and is right to be cautious about going much further in this direction. It is human nature to want to find an external reason for our problems, but it is damaging for politicians to manipulate this natural bias for short term popularity.

On the other hand it is right for politicians to step in when there are measures that it can take that will make a difference when confronted with complex, strategic challenges: The Climate Change Act is the most obvious example. It imposed a step-change in the regulatory burden on the energy sector that was probably unprecedented in the sixty years since the Clean Air Act of 1956, and willingly imposed new costs on all energy users. But the Act followed decades of incremental measures, responding to the evidence base as it developed, and to new capabilities in energy production. The Childhood Obesity Plan of Action signals that a similar, rational approach will now be taken in tackling the obesity epidemic. Most of the time the biggest changes come about in incremental steps.

First published on the British Politics and Policy blog.

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Just under one in ten children in England are obese by the time they begin primary school.

The same NHS figures which highlight this statistic (9.1 per cent) among reception age pupils also pinpoints a stark rise in the issue by the end of primary school. By the time 11-year-olds are ready to move on to secondary school, 19.1 per cent are classed as obese and about a third – 33.2 per cent – are either overweight or obese.

Those figures are clearly a cause for concern. As Public Health England notes, these children are also more likely to miss classes as a result of being ill and suffer from ‘health related limitations’ – with conditions such as diabetes, asthma, sleep problems and mental health disorders all related to obesity.

So, what can be done to tackle a problem on this scale?

Schools

The fact that obesity rises among children during their days at primary school suggests that this is a natural first port of call. Schools need to be setting their children up for an active and healthy lifestyle – showing them the benefits of exercise and the right diet through science, cookery and, of course, physical education.

Many schools do this already, of course, but it’s clear that they need support to do it better. That means better resources – help with the equipment to be able to deliver cookery lessons properly on the right scale or a batch of new PE equipment from Davies Sports.

It also means specialist expertise. More than a quarter of primary school teachers feel unqualified to teach PE – they are crying out for a little assistance to deliver active lessons in a fun and rewarding way. Expert sports coaches need to be made available to either train teachers or deliver more sessions themselves.

Around the home

The simple fact is that schools can’t do it all. Parents and families have to take their share of responsibility for fostering a healthy lifestyle for their child with the right balance of meals and enough physical activity. Children are said to spend an average of 17 hours a week in front of a screen – more than double the amount of time they spend playing outside. Children need to be encouraged to put down their phones and games controllers a little bit more if they are to avoid falling into the obesity trap.

Government

The Government can also do its bit and step in to legislate. It’s clearly not easy – if there were a silver bullet it would have been fired by now – but there are things that can be done to help. The latest idea being trialled is a ‘sugar tax’ on the soft drinks industry, which aims to wean children off the sugary drinks that they enjoy. It has been controversial and has plenty of critics, so close attention will need to be paid to whether this is the right approach or if, alone, it is enough to deal with the scale of the problem.

Sports clubs

Finally, there is a role for sports clubs across the country. These are in constant need of new recruits to stay alive, so reaching out to encourage kids at the earliest possible age is crucial to them as well as the children who need help to stay active. These are the organisations that can, for example, provide the training and support for teachers. Bigger clubs – Football League clubs, rugby and cricket teams, say – can also dish out free or cut price tickets and throw open days to do their bit to foster a love of sport early on. Young fans are likely to want to ‘give it a go’ themselves, after all.

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