Aims To compare the health of contemporary young adolescents with their historical peers. We sought to understand changes in patterns of injuries, non-communicable conditions, infectious diseases and health service use; and to examine the effects of increasing income disparities in Britain over the past 30 years on changes in the social patterning of health between the two cohorts.
Methods Secondary analysis of the 10–11 year surveys of the British Cohort Study (in 1980–81) and the Millennium Cohort Study (in 2012). The prevalence of, and socioeconomic gradients in, the following were compared; general health problems, body mass index, height and weight z scores, allergic conditions, infectious diseases, health service use, smoking and parental smoking behaviour, and maternal adiposity.
Results As shown in Table 1, there were decreases in hospital admissions, smoking, parental smoking, infectious diseases, hearing problems and bed wetting. There were no changes in limiting long standing illness, or the proportion of children having 2 or more accidents requiring medical attention. There were increases in overweight and obesity, height for age, weight for age, chicken pox, allergic conditions and wearing glasses.
There were notable socioeconomic gradients in many health outcomes in the BCS cohort (1980) and the MCS cohort (2012), as shown in Table 2. There was a stronger socioeconomic gradient for most health outcomes in 2012 compared to 1980, with significant increases in social gradients observed for many outcomes.
Conclusions There have been reductions in infectious diseases and tobacco exposure amongst British children at the cusp of adolescence, but overweight and atopic conditions have risen dramatically. Social gradients in health increased across most conditions. Children from deprived families have benefitted least from improvements in health status, and have experienced the largest increases in health risks.
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