30/11/2017 14:02 GMT | Updated 30/11/2017 14:02 GMT

Healthy Children Make Healthy Adults

Andrew Branch
Mother and baby

We all want the best for our children. But how do ensure that all children in London get the healthiest start in life? It’s a question we are asking this winter at the London Assembly Health Committee.

A good start is key to healthy development. So many health conditions that we see in our adults are established from a very early age, and it can be difficult to overcome these later in life. I have to admit, the performance indicators in London are shocking. In essence, we’re storing up issues before babies are even born.

“How much does the baby weigh?” is one of the first questions we ask proud new parents. As a doctor I know that it is an important question, as birth weight is a predictor of health outcomes later on in life. There is a relationship between low birth weight and higher death rates from coronary heart disease, and increased risk factors such as hypertension or type 2 diabetes. In London the average baby weighs a little less than in the rest of the country but there are huge variations between different areas. Shockingly, a baby born in Redbridge is twice as likely to be of low birthweight than a baby born in Kensington and Chelsea.

Issues continue after birth. Breastfeeding has long-term benefits for your baby, which last all the way into adulthood. But breastfeeding rates are lower in London than England as a whole. We need to understand why.

London’s uptake for immunisation too is below the England average for all vaccination types and there are some shocking figures on certain vaccinations. There is only one borough in the whole of London that met Public Health England’s target for MMR 2 dose at 5 years old.

Health conditions continue to build as our children grow up. A whopping 9 in 10 children aged 2-4 do not meet the recommended levels of physical activity and 1 in 4 is clinically overweight or obese by the time they start school. The food we feed our children rots their teeth – and a third develop tooth decay by five years old.

Physical conditions are not the only issue. A slower start in life affects social and emotional outcomes too. In London, twelve to fourteen per cent of children are not reaching the expected goals for social and emotional development.

And we can’t forget the poor parents in all of this! Bringing up a child is hard and can take a real toll on your mental health. Up to 20 per cent of mothers experience perinatal depression and there are also links to depression in fathers and family breakdown. Maternal mental health impacts the child too. Maternal mental health issues are associated with higher risk of poor physical, social, emotional and intellectual development in the child.

So what can we do? This is what the Health Committee is going to explore. The Mayor is developing a Healthy Early Years London scheme – an awards scheme that will recognise high performing early years settings. But is it enough?

We’ll talk to experts from NHS England, the Pre-School Alliance, and Busy Bees amongst others - to look at what the Mayor is already doing. We’ll also examine the earlier parts of a child’s life – the crucial first 1000 days, that we often overlook. And we want your views. Please write or email and give us ideas on how we can help all children in London to have the healthiest possible start in life.

Dr Onkar Sahota AM is Chair of the London Assembly Health Committee. Find out more about the healthy early years investigation.