Improving life chances and reducing child health inequalities: harnessing the potential of existing data

A child sitting on a bench

Children growing up in less advantaged socioeconomic circumstances live shorter and less healthy lives than their more advantaged peers. Their parents are more likely to experience barriers to achieving healthy lifestyles for themselves and their children.

This five year project will examine why children from less advantaged backgrounds have worse health than their more advantaged peers, and what might be done by health professionals and governments to prevent these unfair differences. We will draw upon existing data to examine three questions crucial to the reduction of child health inequalities:

  • What? We will examine the pathways through which socioeconomic health inequalities develop, and identify those which would be most likely to reduce inequalities if we could change them.
  • Who? We will ask whether existing eligibility criteria for early years’ programmes (such as the Family Nurse Partnership, which is offered to young, first-time mums) reach the right people, and whether we can better predict who is most likely to benefit from additional support.
  • How? We will simulate a series of hypothetical scenarios to examine how early years’ programmes and policies might reduce health inequalities, if rolled out under different levels of intensity, eligibility criteria and uptake.

Using Scotland’s outstanding systems of data linkage, we will create an anonymised dataset of all children born in Scotland in 2010-2012. The dataset will include information on physical and mental health (e.g. unintentional injuries, social and emotional development), family socioeconomic circumstances (e.g. parents’ occupation, neighbourhood disadvantage), parental health behaviours (e.g. immunisation, breastfeeding), maternal mental health (e.g. prescriptions for anxiety or depression), and childcare attendance, throughout the first eight years of life. We will also utilise surveys (e.g. Growing Up in Scotland), which collect more in-depth information (for example on household income, relationships and family routines) for a small proportion of the population.

We will gain the views of parents, young people and other interested parties throughout the project. We will communicate findings to policy-makers to maximise the impact of this work.

This project is funded by the Wellcome Trust and has received additional funds from the University of Glasgow Lord Kelvin/Adam Smith (LKAS) scheme for additional training and public engagement. 


John Lynch, University of Adelaide

Hazel Inskip, University of Southampton 

Rachael Wood, University of Edinburgh

Claire Cameron, Health Protection Scotland

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