Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Children in Harm's Way: A Global Issue as Important as Climate Change

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Children in Harm's Way: A Global Issue as Important as Climate Change

Article excerpt

Introduction

There is extensive evidence demonstrating that the health and wellbeing of many of the world's children is at risk. In a comprehensive report just released by the World Health Organisation's (WHO) Commission on the Social Determinants of Health titled "Closing the Gap in a Generation", the increasingly steep social gradient in children's health outcomes is highlighted by the fact that worldwide, 10 million children die each year before their fifth birthday (Commission on the Social Determinants of Health [CSDH] 2008). While the vast majority of these deaths occur among children born in low or middle-income countries, infant mortality is also higher among disadvantaged households and communities in high income countries such as the United Kingdom (UK) and Australia (CSDH 2008, Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth 2008). The social gradient affecting children is not restricted to health outcomes alone. It is estimated that more than 200 million children are not achieving their full developmental potential (CSDH 2008), in terms of emotional, attentional and social regulation, literacy and numeracy, and subsequent learning. The gravity of the issue and the importance of remediation are underscored by a great deal of evidence that suggests early child development lays the foundation for lifelong health and wellbeing (Maggi et al. 2005). Because children who become healthy adults can be expected to make a positive contribution to society, both socially and economically, social gradients in children's development affect the health and wellbeing of entire populations.

Substance abuse is an important issue that is highly illustrative of the interplay between social, psychological and biological mechanisms that give rise to social gradients in children's health and development. Substance abuse is both a cause and effect of disordered early development. Cigarette smoking, alcohol use and illicit drug use during pregnancy all contribute to poor outcomes (Knopik 2009, Guerri et al. 2009, Shankaran et al. 2007). Meanwhile, substance abuse in the adolescent years is much more common among young people with mental health problems and poor school performance (Squeglia et al. 2009, Lamps et al. 2008, Sussman et al. 2008). In the year 2000, Toumbourou et al. (2007) estimated that the use of alcohol and illicit drugs contributed to 23.3% of the disease burden for adolescents and youth aged between 15 and 29 years in developed countries and it accounted for 9.8% of the total global burden of disease for the same age group. The prevalence of substance abuse is already high in the Western world, especially amongst indigenous populations, and it is increasing in many developing nations (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2008, Leslie 2008, Nessa et al. 2008, Nguyen and Scannapieco, 2008, WHO, 2006). It is one of a number of issues within families and communities that must be addressed if the trend toward even greater health inequities is to be arrested. As with many social issues, children and young people are often the worst affected (Nessa et al. 2008).

This paper is a brief summary of research-based knowledge and understanding of social gradients in children's health and development. It will first outline some seminal research in the field and key publications that have effectively synthesised research findings from a wide variety of academic disciplines. Second, it will present a theoretical perspective that has played a significant role in unifying this somewhat disparate body of knowledge and illuminating important causal pathways and potential points of intervention. Thirdly, it will identify biological mechanisms that are known to be influenced by psychological and social factors, focusing on stress responsiveness and the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. Fourthly, it will present evidence for the link between stressful experiences in childhood and poor health and developmental outcomes. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.