Children likely to live shorter lives than their parents

The life expectancy of some of today's children will be years shorter than their parents' if current trends of poor diet and lack of exercise continue, Yvette Cooper, the Public Health minister, will warn today.

The life expectancy of some of today's children will be years shorter than their parents' if current trends of poor diet and lack of exercise continue, Yvette Cooper, the Public Health minister, will warn today.

Ms Cooper, who is speaking at the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association Conference in Harrogate, will outline the Government's increasing concerns about the poor state of children's health and diet. "The health problems that children have in their early years can haunt them for the rest of their lives,"she will say.

"Despite all the improvements such as new vaccinations, growing prosperity and the general improvement in health some health problems in children are getting worse."

Obesity in children has tripled since 1980, because of lack of exercise and high-fat diets, and asthma has more than doubled in the past 10 years, with one in seven children now having respiratory problems. Doctors are also seeing an increase in the incidents of rickets, caused by a lack of vitamin D, and insufficient vitamin levels in children's diets is leading to poor health and development.

Government statistics show that life expectancy for people in Britain has increased steadily over the past 40 years and now stands at 74 years for men and 79 for women. But Ms Cooper says: "There is now a risk that the increase in life expectancy that we have seen in recent years could be lost for the next generation.

"It is a long-term issue for some groups in society. There is already a difference of about five years in life expectancy between the high and low-income groups.

"Life expectancy depends on diet, family background and lifestyle but we will see the repercussions of the increasing problems in child health in 40 or 50 years' time unless trends are reversed."

Low consumption of fruit and vegetables has been linked to asthma, and the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, published last month, showed that one child in five eats no fruit in a week. On average, a child consumes the equivalent of 30 sugar lumps a day.

The Government is looking at ways to improve children's diets and Ms Cooper will announce a scheme to give every child aged four to six a piece of fresh fruit in school every day, starting next month.

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