For starvation, read asthma

13th February 1998 at 00:00
While antibiotics, immunisation, better diet and sanitation have largely seen off the infectious child-killers, life in the late 20th century has brought a new set of health threats to children.

Brenda Poulton, a community health adviser for the Royal College of Nursing, says: "If you look at disease trends, it seems that as you get rid of one, something else jumps in to fill the gap, the obvious example being HIV. "

She points out that while starvation has disappeared, malnutrition remains. Poor families are most likely to resort to low-nutrient junk food while the middle classes load their Volvos with olive oil and polenta.

Children are taller and heavier than ever, but they are also less active, due to a combination of sedentary entertainment and parental fears about letting children play in streets infested with traffic, and lurking anxieties about paedophiles and child-murderers.

Some diseases appear to be on the increase. A recent report in the British Medical Journal reveals that one in three British children suffers asthma symptoms and 20 per cent have been diagnosed with such symptoms at some point before they are 14 - the highest yet reported.

The reliance on convenience food has led to a decline in food preparation skills and a consequent rise in food poisoning. Recreational drugs have brought a huge range of new health threats to children, while early addiction to alcohol and smoking continue to cause anxiety. Smoking, in particular, shows no signs of decline among the 16-24 age group.

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