Health inequalities lead to differing health outcomes between certain groups and individuals, with some groups more likely than others to experience poorer health outcomes in comparison to others. Children and young people are one group where health disparities are clear and have grown in recent years. However, the focus on reducing health inequalities in the NHS (both via research and clinical delivery) has largely been targeted at older age groups.

The inequalities that develop in early years can become embedded across the life course, potentially storing up problems for individuals and for NHS services. Providing high quality services for children and young people can prevent ill health in later life, creating healthier societies and reducing demand for services. Research has shown that interventions to improve health outcomes for children are particularly effective in comparison to intervening at later age points, as they can influence health status across the life course.

Michael Marmot's review of health inequalities in England identifies "giving every child the best start in life" as a key policy objective. There are two versions of NHS England’s Core20PLUS5 framework for reducing health inequalities – one for adults and the other for children and young people. This approach further demonstrates the need to differentiate actions by age, to address different clinical needs at different stages of development as well as to take into account social, educational and communications skills as children and young people develop.

This report sets out the data and evidence of the health inequalities experienced by children and young people. It outlines the rationale for shifting attention towards this age group to prevent health inequalities later in life. It also considers the role that trusts can play in targeting interventions towards improving the health and wellbeing of children and young people who are more likely to experience inequalities. We have highlighted the existing work of trusts to reduce children and young people's health inequalities within case studies from Barts Health NHS Trust and Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust.