Health & Wellbeing

Health inequalities in communities

Paper people casting a shadow

According to the RCN (Royal College of Nursing), a baby born into a home with parents who are well educated and financially comfortable has a better chance of living longer (without disease and disability) than a baby born to parents who are not.

Not so much a postcode lottery as a parental lottery although where they live is a very good indicator of how well those parents eat and take care of themselves and their children in general…

It was revealed earlier this year that babies born in Glasgow are expected to have shorter lives than those born anywhere else in the UK falling at least six years below the official average life expectancy. Your best chances are if you’re born in East Dorset where males are expected to live up to the age of 83, on average.

Scotland has the highest geographical spread of low life expectancy and researchers are quick to make the correlation between those low levels and lifestyle choices including eating habits, smoking, drinking and a lack of physical exercise. The areas are linked by the fact that they are areas with higher rates of poverty than anywhere else in the UK.

Low income or living in a poor neighbourhood can limit an individual’s access to resources such as shops providing nutritious food or gardens and parks for physical exercise. Sometimes it’s not just about making the right choices but how easy those choices are to make. It’s far easier to encourage a child to run around outside if you have a garden for them to do it in or, indeed, to take children to play in a park if there is one within a reasonable walking distance. The physical environment of a community becomes more relevant when access to facilities such as parks and play areas is taken into consideration.

The wealth of a community is significant according to the National Obesity Observatory (NOO), which has found that children living in areas with higher rates of eligibility for free school meals have much higher rates of obesity than those living in areas with low eligibility rates.

NOO’s findings are based on household income data drawn from the Health Survey for England (HSE) which shows that child obesity prevalence rises as household income falls and is significantly higher in the lowest income group than in the highest.

Any issues in a community related to income or the lack of it can sometimes seem insurmountable, particularly when it comes to diet. Many governments have been accused of adopting a ‘nanny state’ approach when it comes to attempting to introduce any policies or forms of regulation to help address poor diet – it’s a thin line. 

There is a proverb that does however spring to mind: ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’ Cash to buy fruit and vegetables for pregnant women (one labour government initiative) and improving school meals are initiatives that can fall into a void, a bit like giving a man a fish, but education is the way to real long-term gain. If you educate children – and adults - about the benefits of healthy eating and exercise, and regularly reinforce that learning, you are teaching them how to fish. 

Education has long been viewed as an escape from poverty and a method of self-improvement and that rationale applies to the physical as well as mental well-being.