From our inception in PHE London we have had our eye on the city’s children. London is a young city but children have very different experiences of growing up here. More children live in poverty in London than elsewhere in England.
Only 53% of London’s children are ready to learn when they first go to school and by the age of 11, nearly 40% of all children are overweight or obese. This is why we have made children’s health and resilience a priority in the recent London Health Commission (LHC) which has a particular focus on giving every child the best start in life.
In gathering evidence for the LHC report, we spoke with many young people, asking them what they thought about health, through formal surveys. We found that many of London’s young understand the basic principles of being healthy; the majority mentioning the importance of exercise (66%) and diet (61%) when asked what health meant to them.
Fewer children however, look beyond these factors and consider issues such as mental health (7%) or smoking, drinking and drug use (4%) as indicators of health. This is why we are working with a wide range of interests around London to better address the mental as well as physical health of our young people.
A particular highlight for me recently was a visit to Paris in November 2014, where we met our counterparts there. During our trip we discovered that they are dealing with many similar issues in their young people as we are.
A striking difference, however, was lower numbers of overweight children; there is a huge emphasis placed on healthy, nutritious school food during the day, followed by a period of mandatory exercise each day. This is as true in the poorest parts of Paris as the most affluent.
I am very impressed with 1001 Critical Days, which is a Cross Party Report focusing on the importance of acting early to enhance the outcomes for children; I highly recommend you read this if you haven’t already. The report endorses many of the LHC’s conclusions; supporting parents at the earliest stages is crucial in getting it right for London’s children.
Accidental child drowning
Building on our role in improving the health of all children, this week we issued a child safety alert in London, to raise awareness among parents, carers and health professionals about accidental child drowning in baths, which can be a common cause of child injury in many homes.
Many of us have lost a focus on accidents, possibly because the largest numbers are now happening in the most invisible location; people’s homes. Accidental injuries that young children experience in and around the home can be life changing, and leave many thousands of children permanently disabled or disfigured every year.
Many of us have lost a focus on accidents, possibly because the largest numbers are now happening in the most invisible location; people’s homes.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) reports that accidental injuries are the most common cause of death in children over one year of age, which is shocking, given that many of these are preventable. Between 2008 and 2012 in England, an average of 62 children (under five years) died each year from unintentional injuries in and around the home. These injuries result in an estimated 452,200 visits to A&E departments and approximately 40,000 emergency hospital admissions among children of this age each year.
We want to raise the awareness of the risks of child accidents in the home and let parents across London know that there are many simple actions that can be taken every day to keep our children safe.
Some of the most common injuries young children experience in the home are choking, suffocation and strangulation; falls; poisoning; burns and scalds; and drowning – all of which are preventable.
Local authorities and their partners, such as the NHS and emergency services do lots of great work in this area, and we support them, helping them to understand the benefits and savings that work on accident prevention can achieve.
We also work closely with commissioners; key stakeholders and voluntary organisations in this area to build on our role in improving the health of all children. In June 2014, PHE published Reducing unintentional injuries in and around the home among children under five years, a report which further explains the scale and nature of accidental child injuries at home.
Some accidents seem very unlikely, such as a young child strangling themselves, but there are growing numbers of cases where children catch themselves on blind cords or other loops, often when they’re climbing. This type of injury can be fatal and it’s vital that parents ensure all strings; cords and chains are out of a child’s reach. There are now safety requirements for new window blinds to stop children getting strangled by them, but parents must be alert to all types of string and cord which children could get tangled in.
Babies and small children are also at high risk of choking as they examine things around them by putting them in their mouths. Ensuring appropriate toys for a child’s age is important, along with keeping objects such as small toys, peanuts and marbles out of their reach. Some of you may have seen The Chokeables from St John’s Ambulance, which is an engaging campaign raising awareness around babies choking; it also shows how simple knowledge of first aid can mean the difference between life and death.
It’s important to recognise that for every child who sadly dies as a result of a preventable injury in the home, there are many more near misses, which can have devastating effects on both the family and society. A young child who, for example, suffers a traumatic brain injury (TBI) from a serious fall can result in disability and lead to high education and social care costs as well as loss of earnings to families and benefit costs to the state. The approximate lifetime costs for a three-year-old child who suffers a severe TBI is £4.89m. Highlighting the human and economic cost of preventable accidents is hugely important and is often a grey area.
It’s important to recognise that for every child who sadly dies as a result of a preventable injury in the home, there are many more near misses, which can have devastating effects on both the family and society.
Across London our children continue to face many challenges, some of which I have outlined above. At PHE we continue to work on improving their outcomes, supporting parents and our many partners, ensuring they have accessible public health advice, intelligence and leadership; healthy child development is fundamental to good health and happy lives.