The health of children improved dramatically worldwide during the 20th century, although with major contrasts between developed and developing countries, and urban and rural areas. The quantitative evidence on urban child health from a broad historical and comparative perspective is briefly reviewed here. Before the sanitary revolution, urban mortality tended to be higher than rural mortality. However, after World War I, improvements in water, sanitation, hygiene, nutrition and child care resulted in lower urban child mortality in Europe. Despite a similar mortality decline, urban mortality in developing countries since World War II has been generally lower than rural mortality, probably because of better medical care, higher socio-economic status and better nutrition in urban areas. However, higher urban mortality has recently been seen in the slums of large cities in developing countries as a result of extreme poverty, family disintegration, lack of hygiene, sanitation and medical care, low nutritional status, emerging diseases (HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis) and other health hazards (environmental hazards, accidents, violence). These emerging threats need to be addressed by appropriate policies and programmes.
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Funding The Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), Marseille, France and IRD, France provided funding.
Competing interest None.
Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.