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Recent studies have shown that poverty has large and consistent associations with negative outcomes in child nutrition in the United Kingdom. Poverty adversely affects the nutrition of children, and this issue has been a significant and growing social problem, even before the occurrence of the global economic downturn. Poverty is a major factor that negatively affects children’s nutrition, and hence their development. This is especially so in cases where there is deep, long-term poverty. The official poverty threshold in the United Kingdom varies according to factors like the money income and the number of adults and children in the family. Every year in the United Kingdom, the official poverty threshold is updated for inflation, using the Consumer Price Index (CPI)
Poverty leads to substandard nutrition and poor motor skills in children. This substandard nutrition is also associated with ‘wasting’ (low weight-for-age) and stunted growth (low height-for-age) in children in the United Kingdom. ‘Research suggests that a combination of parental effort and social programs ‘ correctly de- signed and implemented ‘ can improve the lives of poor children and their families. Both the statistical data and the research findings cited in this brief underscore the need to resume efforts to reduce the child poverty rate, even as other issues command the nation’s attention.’ (Guo G and Harris K M 2000)
Poverty is associated with obesity among children in the United Kingdom. This is because children living in poverty are more likely to have irregular eating habits, and will eat whatever comes to them, as long as it is food. Poor nutrition also leads to a situation in which poor children are at a higher risk of developing chronic health problems like anemia and asthma as they grow up. Children living in poverty are more likely to become physically impaired, and this would cause a lot of restriction in their future activities. Children living in poverty are more vulnerable to risky health compromising behaviors like smoking and getting involved in early sexual activities at a tender age. Health problems that result due to poverty during early childhood can become risk factors themselves that would instigate developmental problems later in life. These include problems in achievement, physical, language, cognitive, social and emotional domains.
Reduced health and safety standards are a major factor in the lives of children who experience long term poverty. For instance, growth differences between poor and non-poor children are much more evident when using a long-term measure of poverty, even when adjustments are made to accommodate family characteristics.
Poverty leads to poor health in children and poor health is linked to various negative educational outcomes (Case and Paxson, 2006) Childhood health problems may impede education. Recent studies have shown that ‘the impact of malnutrition and poor health on a child’s education varies with family socio-economic status, and might be more pronounced in the case of disadvantaged families.’ (Fowler et al, 1992) An analysis of children suffering from chronic health problems progress more slowly through school than children from wealthier families (Case et al, 2002)
In the United Kingdom, there has been evidence that poor health during childhood negatively affects education up until early adulthood and subsequent socioeconomic status. An analysis of the 1958 and 1946 British cohort studies shows that poverty, malnutrition and poor health in children and young adults significantly lowers the chances of cohort numbers to acquire higher-order educational qualifications. Case et al, 2002; Wadsworth, 1986. Several studies indicate that poverty and malnutrition in childhood also have an impact on adult employment and income, although this impact may not be large as compared to other significant socio-economic factors (Currie, 2009; Haas, 2006; Palonni, 2006; Paallon et al, 2008)
Results from recent studies suggest that when children are raised in poverty, they are placed at a higher risk of various negative outcomes which can extend into their adult life. There have been consistently numerous negative associations between poverty in childhood, malnutrition and poor academic results. Poverty has also been associated with children dropping out of school at the adolescent age. Another study about changes in family outcomes found that ‘children whose families go from being above poverty to being either poor or on welfare have lower reading scores than children whose families were never poor.’ (Guo G and Harris K M 2000)
Family poverty and inadequate nutrition is also associated with higher risk of teenage pregnancy, negative peer relationships and lower self esteem, in comparison with children who have not been exposed to poverty. Statistical data as well as research findings have underscored the need for the resumption of efforts aimed at alleviating the child poverty rate. One recent study found that ‘long term poverty is associated with children’s inner feelings of anxiety, unhappiness, and dependence, while current poverty is associated with acting out, disobedience and aggression.’ (Cumella S, Grattan E and Vostanis P 1998)
Research has shown that there are numerous ways by which poverty affects the health of children. Poverty leads to a situation in which children are exposed to risk factors like environmental degradation, maternal depression, parental substance abuse, low quality child care, violent crime, divorce, abuse, trauma and malnutrition. ‘Poverty and inadequate nutrition are likely to affect children’s practical and psychological readiness for educational development and study, and the social support they may need for it. Overcrowding may have direct effects on education and development. It may also have effects via its effects on health and well-being. Overcrowding can limit sleep and the ability to concentrate. Crowding in the home has also been hypothesized to have negative effects on child development, and the development of socially supportive relationships, which result in psychological distress.’ (Evans, 2005)
Effects of poverty and poor nutrition on the health and wellbeing of children in the United Kingdom
Poor nutrition as a result of poverty has negative effects on the health and wellbeing of children in the United Kingdom. Children from families whose family income falls below the official poverty threshold are the most affected by this situation. The official poverty threshold in the United Kingdom varies depending on the number of children and adults in the family.
A recent study suggests that family poverty and malnutrition causes chronic stress; thereby leading to an undermining of a child’s working memory. Poverty and malnutrition also lead to poorer healthcare for children and cause inadequate social behavior in children, which can undermine the educational achievement of these children. Malnutrition as a result of poverty also causes poor social and emotional development in children, as children in poverty are at a greater risk of displaying emotional and behavioral problems like impulsiveness, disobedience, and difficulty in relating properly with their peers.
Children who grow up in Poverty and malnutrition tend to show less compliance and positive behaviors than other children who do not live in an impoverished situation. Family poverty is also associated with a higher risk for teen childbearing, less positive peer relations, and lower self- esteem compared with children who have never experienced poverty. (Koller K, Brown T, Spurgeon A and Levy L 2004)
Poverty influences a child’s social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes because poor children are more likely to be raised by single parents and to live in households where there is less parental supervision and more parental distress. ‘Research finds that poor children are more likely to experience frequent moves and changes in family structure than more affluent children. In turn, children with such turbulent lives are more likely to have negative social and emotional outcomes than children whose lives are relatively stable. Another explanation for the influence of poverty on children’s social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes is that children in low-income families and neighborhoods may be less likely than children who grow up in more economically comfortable circumstances to be exposed to positive social norms in their lives and neighborhoods.’ (Case A, Lubotsky D and Paxson C 2002)
An analysis of health promotion legislation and strategies in the United Kingdom as relates to child nutrition
There is a great need to consider the policies that affect the nutrition and wellbeing of children in the United Kingdom, as they are the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society. Although the current strategies and legislations on child nutrition and health have been structured to be as practical as possible in order to determine which programmes and initiatives are effective, children are still vulnerable to the negative effects of poverty and malnutrition that result from poverty. One such legislation that affects child poverty and nutrition in the United Kingdom is the child poverty act 2010, which places a statutory obligation of developing child poverty strategies on the executive arm of government.
Child poverty has been an important issue for quite some time, and is not a matter that can be tackled in the short term. There are numerous factors that may affect the efforts aimed at lifting children out of poverty, especially in the current economic climate.
In order to effectively tackle child poverty in the United Kingdom, it is vital to consider wider family circumstances, and efforts must be made to provide the legal guardians or parents of the children with adequate support to bring up the children. This can be in the form of financial support, information and advice. There are 2 major aspects of the causes and impact of child poverty in the United Kingdom:
1. Reduction of joblessness among adults who look after children
2. Promotion of longer term outcomes through interventions that are designed to effectively deal with the cyclical nature of child poverty and malnutrition.
The key areas to be tackled in the reduction of joblessness are adult centered, but the key relevant areas in promoting longer-term outcomes for tackling the cyclical nature of child poverty and malnutrition by facilitating the increase of future prospects. These strategies would have to be focused on a longer-term impact.
In the current economic climate, it is important to utilize every opportunity for improved inter-agency and cross-departmental cooperation in order to ensure that statutory obligations placed on the relevant departments within the child poverty act are treated as high priority.
It must be noted that no one department has the authority, resources or power to fully tackle the objectives of this child poverty eradication strategy. It is thus, imperative that departments must combine efforts to achieve a common aim, so as to ensure the achievement of maximum impact on the issue.
The aim of child nutrition legislation and strategies is the provision of opportunities for children and young people to succeed in life, and to address the causes and effects of disadvantage as a result of poverty and inadequate nutrition. It is important for the executive to advocate for the proper level on income resources on behalf of the children and their families. Families should also be given support in accessing these benefits.
The main strategic priority for the child poverty legislation and strategies in the United Kingdom is to ensure that poverty and disadvantage during childhood do not translate into poorer outcomes for the disadvantaged children as they grow up and become adults. Child poverty legislation strategies also aim to ensure that the environment in which children grow up supports them to thrive, and to provide support for more parents to enable them have work that is profitable.
Another strategy for alleviating child poverty and malnutrition in the United Kingdom is to tackle the issue of the child relative income poverty. The child relative income poverty is the proportion or number of children living in households that are below the income poverty line in each given year. ‘The income poverty line in a particular year is set at 60% of the median level of household income in the United Kingdom’ (Currie J 2009)
In order for child poverty and nutrition strategies in the United Kingdom to succeed, there must be a shift towards tackling the root causes of poverty and poor nutrition, and not only treating the symptoms of poverty. There should also be a gradual transition towards using preventative measures in tackling child poverty, and intervening at an early stage in situations where families are in difficulty, in order to reduce the likelihood of more serious issues developing in the future.
It is of essence that children are put at the center of child poverty legislation strategies and that the views and perspectives of these children are taken into account when developing poverty eradication programmes and policies. Efforts must be maximized in strengthening and improving prevention and early intervention for the children and their families, especially during the first 3 years of life, so as to improve their future outcomes in health and wellbeing. Families who are experiencing food poverty and lack of adequate nutrition should also be helped so that they will be able to acquire the food and nutrition necessary for them to stay in good health.
Aid should be provided for parents in low-income families to enable them to gain education, training and working skills that will help them to get better paid employment. The issues involved in child poverty legislation cannot all be tackled at once. Therefore, there is a need for a targeted approach. A smaller number of high priority issues must be first identified, and then efforts must be concentrated on these high priority issues first.
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