My professional concern about Government is the inequality of health and child poverty, about which much time has been spent on pushing through legislation on "Child Poverty".
There is no such thing as child poverty without there being maternal poverty and almost certainly poverty of the father.
What is happening here is that people are using their emotions not logic. The image of the child engenders emotions which lead to remedial and educational programmes in large measure. These are closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.
As well as being President of the McCarrison Society, I am a trustee of the Mother and Child Foundation. We held an inaugural conference at the Royal Society of Medicine in 1990 at which Dr Mark Belsey, then Director of Maternal and Child Health at WHO in Geneva spoke. During his presentation he said this:
"The interest of the child is served by many institutions from UNICEF to Save the Children Fund, the ubiquitous Institutes of Child Health and many other organizations - but - there is no voice for the mother!".
Neglect and lack of guidance during puberty and in pregnancy can lead to multiple nutrient deficits, as we have seen in the East-end of London. That threatens the mother, in terms of both her physical and mental health. Pregnancy-induced diabetes is on the rise, as is maternal depression and anaemia. In developing countries, the neglect is life-threatening. (see www.mother-and-child.org)
As far as the child is concerned, his or her capability at school and potential for jobs is decided before birth, as the bulk of brain division and its capacity is built early in pregnancy. Moreover, brain development is dependent on maternal health and nutrition. Low birthweight and fetal malnutrition is the strongest predictor of diabetes, heart disease and stroke as well as poor attention and performance at school and behavioural pathology. 1
The incidence of low birthweight was 6.6% in England in 1953, for the UK as a whole 6.6% in 1973 and 7.6% in 2002. UNICEF puts it at 8% in 2005. Despite all the advances in medicine and science of which we are proud, the strongest predictors of physical and mental ill health have actually increased in the UK. It is the worst in Western Europe. nearly twice that of the Scandinavian countries and about the same as Romania.
These figures demonstrate the blind spot and lack of logic in addressing poverty and inequality at its roots. Poor maternal health and nutrition can be seen at school with no teaching on the subject. In a study we did in Hackney schools nearly a third of the girls at puberty, were deficient in iron, a key nutrient for a successful pregnancy.2
As a follow up, we found pregnant women in Hackney were seriously deficient of many micro-nutrients.3, 4
Out of these figures comes the adverse impact of this neglect on the health both physical and mental of the mother. You may have seen on the BBC News, the results of our recent study which show the appalling state of maternal nutrition in the East-end of London: but that attention to nutrition can reduce the number of babies born small for gestational age, the highest risk factor.5
Poor maternal nutrition and health leads to a stunting of health and brain capability of the new born who grows up to repeat the process, resulting in a cycle of deprivation.6
This elementary fact has been ignored by successive governments despite being informed of the issue by many of those professionally concerned.
What can you do?
There needs to be new initiative in education where we need to empower children with knowledge. There needs to be a new paradigm in maternity services to inform and assist women in pregnancy about these matters, especially in the most vulnerable people who are usually those in inner cities.
Why we should worry?
An added reason for this concern is the fact that brain disorders have now overtaken all other burdens of ill health. In the EU, the audit revealed a cost of 386 billion. In the UK, where we have had questions asked in the House of Lords, the cost for 2007 was £77 billion, greater than heart disease and cancer combined. Many of us attribute this rise to preventable adverse nutrition: especially of young girls and women during puberty and pregnancy - for which there is good evidence specific to the brain. Moreover, people at the National Institutes of Health in the USA estimate that the greatest rise in mental ill-health is in children.
No party has remotely this far addressed this issue which is of a most serious nature. The rise in brain disorders was predicted by me in a publication in 1972 unless attention was given to brain specific essential fats in the food chain.7 There is a common nutritional factor here in the fats required by the brain and arteries and heart. However, the brain is better protected as it is defined in the womb. Thus there is a time lag between the arteries and brain being affected by bad diets. If brain disorders continue to rise this century, as heart disease did last, then we are looking at the worst social and health threat ever.
1 Black D, Morris J, Smith C, Townsend P. Inequalities in health: report of a Research Working Group. London: Department of Health and Social Security, 1980
2 Doyle, W., Jenkins, S., Crawford, M.A., Puvandendran, K. (1994) Nutritional status of school children in an inner city area. Arch. Dis. Child. 70: 376-381.
3 Doyle, W., Crawford, M.A., Wynn, A.H.A. and Wynn, S.W. (1989) Maternal Nutrient Intake and Birth Weight. J. Hum. Nutr. and Diet. 2: 407 - 414.
4 Wynn, S.W., Wynn, A.H.A., Doyle, W. and Crawford, M.A. (1994) The association of maternal social class with maternal diet and the dimensions of babies in a population of London Women. Nutr. Health 9: 303-315
5 Effect of multiple-micronutrient supplementation on maternal nutrient status, infant birth weight and gestational age at birth in a low-income, multi-ethnic population. Brough L, Rees GA, Crawford MA, Morton RH, Dorman EK. Br J Nutr. 2010 Apr 23:1-9.
6 Birch HG & Gussow JD "Disadvantaged Children" 1970 Harcourt, Brace & World Inc. NY.
7 The Food We Eat Today. Crawford & Crawford. 1972. Spearman.