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Report highlights child health issues

The first national snapshot of children’s health reveals kids in remote, poor and indigenous communities are more likely to be obese, die and have learning problems.

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While the report found the overall health of Australia’s 3.7 million children aged up to 12 was pretty good compared to other developed countries, it highlighted several problems faced by kids in the nation’s most disadvantaged areas.

Indigenous children were up to three times more likely to die as infants or from injury, be of low birth weight and developmentally vulnerable when they start school compared to non-indigenous children.

They were also five times as likely to be born to a teenage mum and eight times as likely be the subject of a child protection order.

Children in remote areas had a 30 per cent higher chance of being obese or overweight than their city cousins, were twice as likely to die as infants and 40-50 per cent less likely to meet literary and numeracy standards.

Those from the poorest backgrounds were nearly twice as likely to be overweight or obese than rich kids and their chances of suffering tooth decay were 60 per cent higher.

They had double the chance of dying as infants and were three times as likely to die from injury, according to the report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

AIHW spokeswoman Dr Fadwa Al-Yaman said the better results for city children and those from wealthier areas could be due to the better access they have to health services.

“Services in remote areas are more costly so not all services can be there,” she told AAP.

“The issue that concerns us is the clustering, with children in disadvantaged areas being worse off in a number of (health) outcomes.”

The figures were collected by the AIHW from a range of reports on children’s health based on data from 2003-2010.

Twelve areas were examined, ranging from infant mortality, teen pregnancy, immunisation, injuries, child abuse and early learning.

On a state by state basis, NSW, Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and the ACT had results better than or similar to the national average across all or most of the 12 key children’s health areas.

But Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory fared worse than the national average on several indicators.

Tasmania and the NT had higher injury death rates while Queensland and the NT fell below the national average for early learning.

All three had higher rates of teenage births.

Comparing Australia to other OECD countries, the nation ranked in the top third for dental health, top two thirds for birth weight, injury deaths and teenage births and the bottom third for infant mortality.

“This suggests there is still room for improvement on these areas in Australia,” the report said.

The institute plans to publish the report annually and expand it to focus on a total of 19 health areas.

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