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Charity warns Scottish health inequalities continue to worsen

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The Health Foundation and research partners have found a widening between the best and worst off in society.

Research by a leading health charity has found that children living in deprived areas of Scotland are twice as likely to experience poor health. 

A report by the Health Foundation, carried out alongside a number of other groups - including Glasgow University and the Fraser of Allander Institute - found large and sometimes widening health inequalities among children living in the most and least deprived communities in Scotland.

The independent review, Health Inequalities in Scotland, claims that children in the most deprived quintile of areas across the country are at least twice as likely to suffer obesity and infant mortality, or to miss out on childhood immunisations.

This publication is due to be the first in a stream of research on health inequalities due to be unveiled, ahead of a final report by the charity in February 2023. 

Dr Anna Pearce, Wellcome Trust senior research fellow at the University of Glasgow’s MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, told the Herald: “This widening of inequality in some areas of children’s health, including the risk of childhood obesity, is worrying, especially with families’ financial circumstances expected to worsen.

“We know that these inequalities are not going to be resolved by solely targeting people’s behaviours.

"For example, inequalities in childhood obesity are likely to be driven not by differences in children’s physical activity levels (which do not vary by deprivation), but by differences in diet and a healthy balanced diet is considerably more expensive calorie for calorie and therefore increasingly inaccessible to those on the lowest incomes.

“This is a national problem for Scotland, and the data show a growing inequality gap.”

The situation is not entirely negative, however, with smoking in pregnancy, breastfeeding and child development all showing signs of progress, despite inequalities in these outcomes persisting.

The work was funded by the Health Foundation and undertaken in collaboration with Nesta in Scotland and the Diffley Partnership.

David Finch, assistant director at the Health Foundation, added: “Our review aims to fully understand all the factors which cause health inequality in Scotland, and to provide policy makers with a foundation to improve the outcomes for the sections of the population who are struggling the most.

“This stark and concerning data on childhood obesity and other childhood inequalities – shows the importance of supporting good health and tackling inequalities for children from the youngest ages and for their families.

“The evidence pointing to nutrition as the driver, rather than physical activity, requires us to examine the links between the health of our children and cost of living, including access to healthy food – a particular concern with food prices rising by 13% in the year to August.

“We hope our review will create a foundation for improving the health of people across Scotland.”