Article

How does social vulnerability affect childhood health?

Isabel Iguacel Azorín and Luis Alberto Moreno Aznar, GENUD group of the University of Zaragoza

Children’s health is not only correlated with the education, professions and income of their parents, as was already known. It is also correlated with other socioeconomic factors: family structure, the geographical origin of their parents, their employment – or unemployment – situation, and the quantity and quality of their family’s social networks. Children that grow up in more vulnerable families have more probabilities of growing up with worse physical and mental health.
Key points
  • 1
       One of the most important conditioning factors of health are lifestyles and, in particular, food patterns. Both the former and the latter have a great deal to do with socioeconomic inequalities.
  • 2
       A scant social support network is the most relevant variable with respect to health problems, especially when the social isolation of parents persists over time. It is related with psychosocial problems, but also with diet, exercise, a sedentary lifestyle or overweight.
  • 3
       An accumulation of social vulnerabilities increases the risk of unhealthy lifestyles. Children aged 6 years growing up in households with more than three socioeconomic factors against them (also called vulnerabilities), show an overweight and obesity rate that is over double that of other children.
  • 4
       For children born in Spain, the data show that gypsy children and those with Latin American parents have, respectively, 4 and 3 times more possibilities of suffering from overweight or obesity at the age of 6 years than children with non-gypsy parents.
  • 5
       Children whose parents are of immigrant origin or have no work spend more time in front of a screen and participate less in sports activities than other children.
Relationship between vulnerabilities and unhealthy diet

Independently of classical socioeconomic indicators (education, profession, income) there are also differences in health associated with other social vulnerabilities. Some 65.1%  of children whose parents stated that they had a poor social network followed a non-healthy pattern, versus 38.7% of young people whose parents had a broad social network. Some 57.4% of children with unemployed parents also followed this pattern, against 46% with parents with work.

The health gradient

• People’s health and their socioeconomic situation are correlated. Specifically, the better their socioeconomic situation, the better their health; and the worse their situation, the worse their health. This is a correlation that arises in Spain as in all other countries worldwide, independently of average income levels. This is called the socioeconomic gradient of health and it runs from the apex to the base of the socioeconomic spectrum, affecting the entire population. Of course, children do not escape this phenomenon.

• Knowing the causes of the socioeconomic gradient is the first step towards resolving health inequalities. Interventions in this sense should take into account the ethnic, social and economic diversities to reduce inequalities in children’s health.

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