How healthy are Islington’s children?

Islington's children are getting more exercise than before. Image: Dorcas Sinclair
Islington's children are getting more exercise than before. Image: Dorcas Sinclair
70 per cent of Islington’s children are getting more than three hours of exercise a week. Image: Dorcas Sinclair

As a wide-ranging report finds that Islington children are more likely to be homeless and underachieve at GCSE than the nation average, Adam Withnall looks into the health of the borough’s children.

Nearly a quarter of children preparing to start secondary school in Islington are classified as obese.

A new report assessing the health and wellbeing of the borough’s children, compiled by the Child and Maternal Health Observatory, rates young people against national and regional averages, on issues such as family homelessness, GCSE achievement, teenage conception rate, and numbers of those living in poverty.

On every count Islington fared worse than the national average.

40 per cent of children in poverty, despite recent falls

More than 40 per cent of children in the borough were defined as living in poverty, meaning their families received out of work benefits or tax credits and their reported income was less than 60 per cent of the UK median.

While this equates to an alarming 13,600 children, the figure is a substantial improvement on previous years.

In the 2010 child health profile, 52 per cent of children in Islington lived in poverty – a total of almost 16,000.

This year’s obesity levels are also an improvement, down two per cent  when compared to 2010.

Similarly in 2012 here were 357 homeless families in the borough, there are now 287. As a proportion of all households this is, however, still double the national average.

The outlook for young people aged between 15 and 18 is particularly bad in the borough, especially when compared to regional averages. London as a whole has good GCSE results, low levels of people not in education, employment or training and low levels of teenage pregnancy.

A*s elusive

By contrast, just 53 per cent of Islington pupils received good GCSE results (five A*-C grades) compared to a national average of almost 60 per cent. Over eight per cent of all 16-18 year-olds were reported as not being in employment, education or training, compared to a national rate of six per cent. Similarly, while the London rate of teenage conception is in keeping with the UK average (35.4 per 1,000 girls aged 15-17), the rate for Islington is almost 45 per 1,000.

While in many areas it is the case that the borough is doing badly but improving year on year, some criteria show Islington’s children are doing outstandingly well.

The foremost of these is in participation in sport. In 2010 the child health profile measured the proportion of children doing at least two hours of sport or PE a week. The national average was 90 per cent, and Islington fared a little worse, on 88.6 per cent.

Getting involved

This year the report measured participation in more than three hours of sport a week instead, and the nation clearly struggled to meet the new benchmark, with the national and regional averages at around 55 per cent of children.

Islington, however, has excelled in meeting this new requirement – performing far better than most of the rest of the UK with over 70 per cent of children doing three or more hours of physical exercise.

As the poor regional average for sport participation may rule out the London Olympics as the cause of this success, the improvement could come down instead to the council’s priorities. It lists a desire for children to “be fit and healthy by enjoying good physical and mental health and living a healthy lifestyle” as the Islington Children’s Partnership’s first goal.

A key example of this is the Islington Children’s and Families Strategy which was implemented in 2011. It has aimed to improve the leisure facilities available in parks and improve community access to school sports facilities, provide comprehensive school and after school sports programmes and make provisions for youth engagement programmes across estates during holidays.

Although some improvements have been made on children’s welfare, there is a long way to go on issues of poverty, obesity and education.