Huge variations in levels of childhood obesity and other problems have been revealed before the responsibility for health services for under-fives is transferred to local authorities.
A report by the National Children’s Bureau found a five-year old in Leicester is five times more likely to have tooth decay than one in West Sussex, while a child in reception class in Barking and Dagenham is more than two and a half times more likely to be obese than a child of the same age in nearby Richmond upon Thames.
It says if young children in the North West had the same health as those in the South East then over 15,000 cases of child ill-health could be prevented.
However, the report, Poor Beginnings, found that several areas had better than average child health despite being less prosperous.
From 1 October 2015, 152 local authorities in England will take on responsibility for public health for children aged-under five, including health visiting. The responsibility is being devolved from NHS England.
The NCB calls on the government to set out a renewed strategy to improve the health and development of children and families in the early years, and further investigate the variations uncovered in the report and how they relate to local health initiatives.
Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau described the wide differences in under-fives health as 'shocking'.
She said: 'We need local and national government to make the same efforts to narrow the gap in health outcomes across the country for under-fives as has been made to narrow the gap in achievement between poor and rich pupils in school.'
Cheryll Adams, chief executive of the Institute of Health Visitors said: ‘Health services must continue to be commissioned to recognise risk and intervene early in the life cycle, in pregnancy and the very early years, as this can have the greatest impact on improving health and development.'