Health of children and young people must be prioritised by NHS

Full Story in BMJ 14 March 2018

Children and young people are a quarter of our population1 but 100% of our future. Our moral obligation to promote children’s health is clear within UK law and in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Furthermore, 94% of adult Britons believe children’s health should be a priority for the NHS.2 Despite this, the low priority that UK health systems give to children suggests we must marshal other arguments to convince policy makers.

Children and young people aged 0-19 years are the workforce of the 2020s and the parents of the next generation. Their health will be one of the factors deciding whether the UK is prosperous after 2019. Countries that invest in child health reap impressive economic rewards, with each pound spent on children’s health returning over £10 to society over a lifetime.3 The converse is that poor health in childhood leads to reduced workforce participation and productivity4 and lowers national wealth.3

The UK has a higher birth rate5 and a higher proportion of young people in its population6 than almost all other European countries. There are 15.5 million people aged under 20 years in the UK1—more than the whole population of 19 of the other 27 EU countries.7 This “country” of children will provide us with a future demographic dividend of a larger working age productive population if, and only if, we preserve their health.