THE UK is one of the most of unhealthiest countries to raise a child in the Western World, a new study has found.
The British have one of the lowest breastfeeding rates and among the highest obesity rates.
Meanwhile, baby girls born now have the shortest life expectancies in Western Europe, dying an average three years earlier than girls in Spain.
The study was undertaken by the Nuffield Trust think-tank and examined 16 indicators including breastfeeding rates, obesity, life expectancy and birth defects caused by a lack of folic acid.
The UK’s breastfeeding rates were found to be the worst out of the 14 countries with data available, with only 1% of babies given breast milk exclusively at five months.
This compares with 34% in Portugal and 29% in Spain.
Birth defect rates due to lack of folic acid were the second highest after France.
An average of 12.8 babies out of 10,000 in the UK are born with neural tube defects, which affect the brain, spine or spinal cord.
This is three times the rate of Spain where only four babies out of 10,000 are affected and foods are more commonly fortified with folic acid.
Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust, said: “Child health is notably absent from much policy thinking at the moment and we are now falling behind our peers when it comes to several vital measures. It’s time for policymakers to take child health seriously before our somewhat mediocre international standing becomes even worse.”
The analysis also found that girls born in the UK can expect to live an average of 82.3 years.
This was the lowest for the 11 European countries where figures were available, and three years less than a girl born in Spain.
For boys in the UK the average life expectancy is 79.2 years, the fourth worst of 11 countries.
Meanwhile, obesity rates for girls were the second worst of 15 countries, only behind the US.
A total of 29.2% of girls under 18 in the UK are classed as overweight or obese.
For boys the figure is slightly lower at 26.1%, and this is the eighth worst.
Dr Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “Given that children and young people make up a quarter of the UK population, it’s a real failure of the system that child health gets so little political attention.
“Investing in child health makes both moral and economic sense – for every £1 you put in, you get an average of £10 back in terms of future productivity. We want to see the UK Government develop a comprehensive cross-departmental child health strategy.
“It’s also crucial that some of the biggest threats to child health are tackled boldly; for example tighter restrictions on junk food advertising to tackle obesity, the reinstatement of child poverty reduction targets and crucially the reversal of damaging public health cuts.”