The big read: How healthy are our children?

How do children in the county compare to the rest of the country?
How do children in the county compare to the rest of the country?

Children in the county are not doing enough sport on a regular basis, according to Government figures.

Northamptonshire is ranked in the bottom 25 per cent of English local authorities in terms of the proportion of youngsters who do at least three hours of exercise a week.

The findings are among a host of indicators published by the Child and Maternal Health Observatory, an organisation funded by the Department of Health, in order to build up a picture of child health across the country.

They also show nearly 10 per cent of four and five-year-olds, as well as more than one in six of all 10 and 11-year-olds, are classified as obese, although this is better than the average.

The director of Northamptonshire Sport, Chris Holmes, said he hoped the Olympics last summer and a recent Government announcement of a £150m boost for primary school sports would help increase the number of active youngsters.

He said: “We want to see lots of young people being physically active, whether it’s formal sport or a bike ride with mum and dad.

“It tends to be the sort of behaviour that sticks through teenage years and into adulthood, where it’s clearly important for good health.”

He added that a snapshot survey carried out by Northamptonshire Sport at the end of last year showed most sports clubs had seen an increase in interest and in new members since the summer.

Kerrie Pearson, Mend co-ordinator for NHS Northamptonshire, said exercise was an imperative in keeping children healthy.

Mend is a programme which helps children and adults take steps to keep their weight under control.

She said: “There must be a multi-disciplinary approach to preventing the increase of child obesity.

“All parties need to be promoting the same health messages to children regarding healthy eating and how important it is to be active.”

And she said the fact the county ranked ahead of the national average on most indicators was positive, adding: “This proves that the initiatives and programmes we have in place, such as the Mend programme, are proving to be a valuable investment to help our children to become fitter, happier and healthier.”

Among the other indicators, exam results in the county are lower than the England average, with 56 per cent of young people achieving at least five GCSEs, including English and maths, at grade C or above.

The national figure is more than 59 per cent.

But the proportion of children living in poverty and the number of NEETs in the county – those not in employment, education or training – are both lower than the England average.

On 32 measures, which cover a range of topics including health protection, improvement and prevention as well as mortality, the county ranks better than the English average in 17 areas, worse in 13, with the remainder either no different or with not enough data available.

Compared to a similar Child Health Profile taken last year, Northamptonshire has improved in 15 measures and declined in just nine.

John Henrys, principal of Corby Business Academy, said his school aimed to encourage pupils to eat healthily and do regular exercise.

He said: “A choice of activities are presented at the academy to engage students in maintaining an active life into adulthood.”

The bad news

Northamptonshire ranks in the bottom quartile of authorities in England in four of the 32 indicators.

They are family homelessness, the number of children doing three hours of sport a week, the percentage of children in care who have been immunised and hospital admissions for mental health conditions.

More than 900 households were registered as homeless in 2011-12, a rate nearly twice that of the English average.

It also marked a significant rise compared to the last recorded figures in 2007-08, where only 629 households were registered as homeless. The figures show 3,438 people aged 15 to 24 were diagnosed with an acute sexually transmitted infection in 2011, the most recent year for which figures are available.

That equated to a rate of 4.2 per cent of the population, compared to an England-wide average of 3.6 per cent. Meanwhile, 141 births in the year 2011-12 were to mothers aged 17 or under, again higher than the national average.

The number of mums smoking in pregnancy in the county was also higher, with 16 per cent of mothers admitting to smoking at the time of giving birth.

The good news

The proportion of 16, 17 and 18-year-olds not in education, employment or training, commonly referred to as NEETs, is lower than average in our county.

The rate of NEETs in Northamptonshire was 5.4 per cent, with the English average at 6.1 per cent.

The county also outperforms the national average in the rate of childhood vaccinations. By the age of two, 94 per cent of children had been immunised against measles, mumps and rubella, compared to the England figure of 91 per cent.

Meanwhile jabs against diseases like tetanus and polio had been given to 98 per cent of two-year-olds in the county, again outstripping the rest of the country.

In both cases, the county has improved compared to the previous year’s figures.

Other areas in which Northamptonshire beats the national average include the percentage of children regarded as obese and the number of accident and emergency admissions for children aged four or under.

The latter was the only indicator in which the county ranked in the top quartile.

One in six children in the county was living in poverty – that is, a family on benefits whose income is less than 60 per cent of the average.

But although the national figure was much worse, a spokesman for the Action for Children charity said: “It’s clearly too high in this day and age.”