We must get it right for the next generation - that is the call from Blackpool’s director of public health as his latest annual report highlights a catalogue of grim statistics for the resort’s young people.
Dr Arif Rajpura warned intervention was needed from pregnancy to pre-school right through to adolescence in order to create a healthy town and drive up life expectancy.
He told a meeting of Blackpool’s adult social care and health scrutiny committee: “A baby boy born in Blackpool today will live on average five years less than the national average and that is a social injustice.”
Dr Rajpura’s annual public health report Healthy Beginnings For A Healthy Future, says failings ranging from high levels of women smoking during pregnancy to too many children being obese, are putting the town’s youngsters at risk.
But much improvement has already been achieved in areas such as dental health and thanks to work with partners including BetterStart and HeadStart.
Dr Rajpura added: “If we protect children and young people, we get it right for the next generation.
“I wanted to focus on the plethora of activity for children and young people.
“They represent a quarter of our population so it’s important we get it right.”
Some areas are moving in the right direction - such as dental health which has seen improvement since fluoridated milk was introduced in primary schools.
The report says: “There have been significant developments over the past few years in understanding the importance that children’s health and wellbeing in early years plays in determining their health and wellbeing as adults.
“The environment and experiences a child grows up with can change the likelihood of developing poor health in adulthood.”
Adversity in childhood has been linked to an increased chance of suffering from diseases later in life including cancer, cardiovascular disease, lung or liver disease, as well an increased likelihood of taking up harmful addictions.
Now Dr Rajpura has set out six recommendations which he hopes will add to the work already being done and deliver a more positive future for Blackpool’s current generation of young people.
These include continuing to invest in early years intervention, promoting healthy weight, tackling issues such as poverty and poor housing which affect educational chances, reducing teenage pregnancies, supporting programmes such as Head Start to improve young people’s mental health and ensuring no child “falls through the net” at different stages of their life.
The report describes many children in Blackpool as having a difficult start in life sometimes right from conception.
Smoking rates during pregnancy in the town are double the national average, but have come down to 26 per cent from 40 per cent in recent years.
More than nine per cent of births in Blackpool are registered by one parent, suggesting many mothers have no support from the father of their child during pregnancy.
Once babies arrive, not enough new mums breastfeed - only 57 per cent did so in 2016/17 which is down from 63 per cent in 2013/14, while only a quarter of mums keep on breastfeeding after six to eight weeks.
However initiatives are in place to tackle some of these issues including the Survivor Mums’ Companion Programme to support pregnant women with a history of childhood trauma.
This is run by Blackpool Better Start, a Lottery funded 10-year scheme aimed at creating better lives for families with pre-school children.
Better Start also runs a peer programme, whereby it trains volunteers to work with new parents.
But Dr Rajpura admitted there needs to be a “cultural change” in Blackpool to encourage more mums to breastfeed.
Efforts have included recognising shops and businesses which actively welcome breastfeeding.
The report says 88 per cent of Blackpool children are vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella which is similar to the national average.
There are no Blackpool figures, but in the North West as a whole there were 32 cases of measles and 86 cases of mumps in 2017.
When it comes to general readiness for school, 68 per cent of Blackpool children achieved a good level of development in 2017/18 compared to 71.5 per cent nationally.
It is hoped to improve this through an increase in health visits to eight from five including a visit to check a child’s skills in terms of language and toilet training to ensure they are not held back when they start school.
General levels of deprivation can prove a barrier to learning, with more than a quarter of Blackpool children formally classed as living in poverty meaning they have to contend with poor housing and food and cold homes.
Paradoxically another problem is obesity - with 27 per cent of children judged to be overweight or obese when they start school, rising to 38 per cent when they leave primary school.
However dental health is improving with three quarters of five-year-olds now having no decayed teeth, up from 57 per cent.
Initiatives including the introduction of fluoridated milk, supervised teeth brushing and handing out free tooth brushes and toothpaste have helped make the difference.
More teenagers smoke in Blackpool - just over 13 per cent of 15-year-olds, compared to eight per cent nationally.
This has prompted the appointment of a special stop smoking advisor as part of a pilot programme in schools.
But poor mental health affects many youngsters with an estimated one in 10 aged between five and 16 “likely to have mental health disorders”.
One in every 100 children and young people aged 10 to 24 in Blackpool were admitted to hospital due to self harming according to figures for 2017/18.
The Lottery funded HeadStart scheme is working in schools to improve resilience while a new care model for Child Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) is being developed to address problems, the main one being long waiting times.
Teenage pregnancy rates are down, but remain double the average for England with work going on to identify vulnerable girls.