Parents should be given an extra vote for every child in their family in a bid to end politicians’ disastrous neglect of child health, the leader of the UK’s paediatric body has said.
Professor Neena Modi, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, says children are being failed. Issues from child poverty to obesity are not being addressed. As these children grow up, they are likely to become unhealthy adults, suffering in later life and putting more pressure on a struggling NHS.
“If we don’t get this right right now we will be – and are already – reaping terrible consequences down the line. The latest figures I’ve seen are 10 to 20 fewer years of healthy life if you go into young adulthood obese,” Modi told the Guardian in an interview.
The problems set in even earlier, she said, pointing out that 80% of obese children will become obese adults. And the infant children of obese mothers will have more adipose – fatty – tissue, which makes it more likely they will have weight problems as they grow up.
The invisibility of children, who are 25% of the population but have no vote, could be overcome, Modi believes.
“Now we could fix that. By giving parents proxy votes for their children,” she said.
“Why not? My view is that 25% of this democracy is being denied their democratic rights. Society accepts that parents stand as proxies for their children in all other respects. Why not this one too?”
Governments are also ignoring the economic consequences of failing to improve child health, from obesity to mental illness to the diseases caused by air pollution, she says. “Take the obesity example. 80% of obese children will be obese adults and an obese adult will lose 18 years of healthy life. Clearly that is going to have a double whammy on the health of the nation. You lose adult productivity and you impose another burden on the health services,” she said.
Modi was speaking out as the college published its second State of Child Health report, looking at progress against a series of recommendations in its first report a year ago. Child poverty in the UK is at its highest level since 2010, 100 out of every 1,000 young people under 19 are likely to have a diagnosable mental health disorder, and one in three 11-year-olds is overweight or obese, says the report. Scorecards show that while Wales and Scotland have made some policy improvements, England has hardly moved at all.