The BMJ Today: Childhood poverty and early health

Spring seems to have finally reached London, and what we’re lacking in lambs The BMJ seems to be making up with newborns, the BMJ baby count so far stands at three with two more to come soon.

A good early start in life is important, and the benefits of breast feeding are well known—but this is also a stressful time for new mothers, which is often exacerbated by problems with breast feeding. In a very useful clinical review, Lisa Amir and colleagues spell out what some of these common problems are, and how they can be best treated. Also, along with specialist lactation consultants, they have produced two videos which help explain hand expression and good positioning to help with the baby’s attachment.

Nurturing, of course, doesn’t stop with the mother—and school is an important place to maintain a good start, or help children catch up with their peers. However, argues an editorial from ​Chris Bonell and colleagues, Michael Gove, the education secretary’s emphasis of educational over personal and health development means that the latter is being pushed out of the curriculum. ​Bonell​ ​et al ​argue that these two threads are synergistic, rather than antagonistic, so both should make up a fully rounded education.

Underlying health and educational attainment is the spectre of poverty. Childhood poverty’s disabling effect on later attainment was written about in 1973 by the National Children’s Bureau in their report Born to Fail, and despite the growth in GDP the same Bureau now estimates that the number of children living in poverty has grown from 2m in 1969 to 3.5m in 2013—with 200,000 to be added by the government’s plan to limit the growth in certain benefits to 1% per year, way below current inflation.

Graham Watt’s editorial Poverty in the United Kingdom: from bad to worse lays this increase in childhood poverty at the feet of Thatcherism, and the changes in our society since the 80s which mean that wealth is being accumulated at the top. Speaking from Glasgow, he thinks that the increasing difference between attitudes of the Scottish population, and the prevailing government in Westminster, have sown the seeds of independence. As a fellow Scot, I hope that if my countrymen do vote for independence (which as a London resident I can’t do) that the new government will follow some of the advice set out in the Reid Foundation’s Common Weal and seriously tackle wealth inequality which is holding back children in the UK, and help them lead happier, healthier lives.

Duncan Jarvies is multimedia producer for The BMJ.