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Children Raised Under UK Austerity Shorter Than European Peers, Study Finds

British children who grew up during the years of austerity are shorter than their peers in Bulgaria, Montenegro and Lithuania, a study has found.

In 1985, British boys and girls ranked 69 out of 200 countries for average height aged five. At the time they were on average 111.4cm and 111cm tall respectively.

Now, British boys are 102nd and girls 96th, with the average five-year-old boy measuring 112.5cm and the average girl, 111.7cm. In Bulgaria, the average height for a five-year-old boy is 121cm and a girl, 118cm.

Experts have said a poor national diet and cuts to the NHS are to blame. But they have also pointed out that height is a strong indicator of general living conditions, including illness and infection, stress, poverty and sleep quality.

“They have fallen by 30 places, which is pretty startling,” said Prof Tim Cole, an expert in child growth rates at the Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, University College London. “The question is, why?”

GPs in poorer areas of the country have reported a resurgence of Victorian diseases such as rickets and scurvy caused largely, they say, by nutritional deficiencies. NHS data shows that about 700 children a year are admitted to hospital with malnutrition, rickets or scurvy in England.

Separate research suggests that dietary inequalities in children from poorer backgrounds are driving higher rates of problems including obesity, type 2 diabetes and dental decay.

Cole, who was not involved in the study, said the data suggests that growing up in the 2010s “which happens to coincide with the period of austerity … tells me that austerity has clobbered the height of children in the UK”.

Food experts point out that a diet of cheap junk food makes people simultaneously overweight and undernourished.

“Children in the poorest areas of England are both fatter and significantly shorter than those in the richest areas at age 10 to 11,” said Henry Dimbleby, the former government food adviser.“This is a big enough problem to have an impact at an international level.”

In the Netherlands, the average five-year-old boy is 119.6cm and the average girl is 118.4cm tall. In France, the figures are 114.7cm and 113.6cm respectively. In Germany they are 114.8 and 113.3. Danish boys are on average 117.4cm tall, and Danish girls 118.1cm.

Dimbleby said that in modern Britain the way we eat is one of the clearest markers of inequality: annual surveys show children from the poorest fifth of families consume about a third less fruit and vegetables, 75% less oily fish, and a fifth less fibre than children from the most well-off families.

The data is taken from national measurement programmes, collated by the Non-communicable diseases risk factor collaboration, a global network of health scientists.

A government spokesperson said: “There are a range of factors that can impact children’s growth, which are not just limited to diet, and we are taking steps to support families by providing record financial support to families who need it most.”

Source : TheGuardian