Efforts to tackle health inequalities among England’s richest and poorest children during the last decade have failed, research claims.
Health inequalities in children from different socioeconomic groups may have even widened, the study suggests.
Officials need to make a “concerted effort” to narrow the gap because the number of children living in poverty is expected to rise in coming years as a consequence of the current financial climate, the authors said.
The research, published in Archives of Disease in Childhood, examined data from the Health Survey for England published in 1999, 2004, 2006 and 2009.
The researchers, from University College London’s Institute of Child Health and London’s Imperial College Trust, analysed the findings from children adolescents and young adults aged from birth to 24.
They looked at data concerning self or parental reports of general health, the presence of a long-standing illness as well as whether they were smokers or obese.
They found that there was no reduction of inequality in any of the factors between 1999 and 2009. In fact, there was some evidence of increased inequality.
But inequality in smoking among children aged eight to 15 increased between 1999 and 2004 before decreasing again by 2009.
Between 1999 and 2009, ministers set out a series of proposals to reduce such inequalities, including increases to benefit payments and higher spending on health, education and housing and a number of initiatives such as the Sure Start centres for low income families.
But the authors said: “The national programme between 1999 and 2009 was not successful in reducing inequality in four key indicators of health status and future health risk among children and young people.
“Whereas inequality in infant mortality decreased over this period, we found that inequality in general health, long-standing illness, smoking and obesity among children and young people either remained unchanged or increased between 1999 and 2009.
“We propose that expected increases in child poverty may exacerbate the challenge of reducing child health inequalities in the future and we call for a concerted policy response.”
Last year, the government introduced a statutory duty for the NHS to reduce health inequalities.