A new report finds rates of four health conditions in children in New Zealand remain too high compared to rest of developed world, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell on The Bulletin.
New Cure Kids report puts inequity front and centre of children’s health
I have a regular conversation with a group of friends who grew up in the 80s and 90s. We all came from a real mix of socio-economic backgrounds but feel like we had similar experiences of childhood. We were nerds who thought a treat was going to the library on Friday nights. We got a packet of felts for our birthday. We remember the dental nurse and having similar childhood ailments. It’s all a bit rose-tinted but I often think about these conversations when new evidence is presented about how different outcomes are for kids now, based on socio-economic factors. A report released yesterday from Cure Kids highlights just how badly deprivation is affecting the state of children’s health in New Zealand.
New Zealand “one of the worst places in the developed world to be a child”
The report’s topline is that the rates of the four diseases they benchmarked in children are too high relative to other resource-rich countries. The report looked at dental health, respiratory illnesses, skin infections and rheumatic fever. Paediatrician Stuart Dalziel said the report highlights the inexcusable inequity that exists in our health outcomes for children. Children’s Commissioner Frances Eivers did not mince words in the report’s foreword, saying “On many measures, New Zealand is currently one of the worst places in the developed world to be a child.”
Rheumatic fever disproportionately affecting Pacific and Māori children
Respiratory conditions like asthma are the leading cause of acute admissions to hospital for children in New Zealand. Rheumatic fever, an illness caused by a strep infection that results in heart damage, disproportionately impacts Māori and Pacific children. It’s an illness that’s been called “a national shame”. During the 2020 election campaign, prime minister Jacinda Ardern said we shouldn’t have it in New Zealand. Recurrent strep infections are connected to poor housing conditions. The report found Pacific children were admitted to hospital for rheumatic fever 140 times more often than children of “European or Other” ethnicities. Māori children were admitted to hospital for rheumatic fever 50 times more often.
Tooth decay in children brings sugar consumption to the fore
The report also found 41% of five-year-olds had signs of tooth decay while the rate of hospitalisations for children with serious dental decay had steadily increased since 2000. Tooth decay in young children is caused by frequent consumption of sugary drinks and foods and by insufficient oral hygiene. A petition was presented yesterday at parliament calling for all schools in New Zealand to be sugary-drink free. The question of a sugar tax cropped up again earlier this month. Rob Beaglehole from the NZ Dental Association argues we need to be proactive with a sugar reduction strategy because of the woeful state of water fluoridation in New Zealand. The New Zealand Initiative’s Eric Crampton says the evidence doesn’t support the argument that a tax would reduce consumption.