Children’s start in life is not equal

Inequalities in some aspects of child health have been improving, including smoking in pregnancy and child development, whilst inequalities for childhood immunisations and risk of obesity have widened.

Key points

  • Some aspects of child health have been improving across all levels of deprivation, although inequalities persist. Examples include timely antenatal bookings, breastfeeding at 6-8 weeks, and child development.
  • Another is tobacco exposure in pregnancy, which has fallen dramatically over the past twenty years, however those living in the most deprived fifth of areas are more than ten times as likely to be exposed to tobacco in pregnancy than those in the least deprived fifth of areas.
  • For some outcomes, inequalities have been worsening. For example, The proportion of children not immunised with their measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine by age 2 had been falling and by 2013 inequalities had almost been eliminated. Unfortunately, since then, the proportions of children not being immunised have started to increase in more deprived areas.
  • Inequalities in childhood obesity have also been widening, driven by increasing prevalences in more deprived areas.
  • Inequalities in children’s health can lead to inequalities in adult health, such as in diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as in other aspects of life, for example attainment in school and employment opportunities. We may therefore be storing up problems for the future, in terms of population health, life chances, and inequalities.

Related Graphs

Smoking in pregnancy is decreasing but inequalities are large, with rates eleven times higher in the most deprived (compared to the least deprived) fifth of areas


Inequalities in MMR uptake (first dose, 2 years) have widened since ~2014 and the WHO target is only met in the least deprived 40% areas


Inequalities in childhood obesity risk at the start of school have widened over the past decade