Tag Archives: Diversity

Better start for children

Giving children the best possible start in life is the topic of a keynote talk today by our editor Yvonne Kelly.

Yvonne will be presenting a range of new evidence from the ESRC International Centre for Lifecourse Studies  to politicians, business leaders, and other professionals and key decision makers at an event discussing how Gothenburg can be made an equal and socially sustainable city.

Yvonne will talk about the factors which are most closely linked with a child’s health and well-being and present findings on children’s verbal skills, behaviour, bedtimes, reading and obesity. She will make the case that signs of social inequalities are evident early in a child’s life and that it is important to intervene early to tackle those inequalities.

Early puberty: a question of background?

New research examining the connections between early puberty in girls and their socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds is being presented to an international audience of researchers in Germany today.

Early puberty in 11-year-old girls: Millennium Cohort Study findings is work led by Child of our Time editor Yvonne Kelly using information on 5,839 girls from the Millennium Cohort Study.

The findings, presented at the Society for Longitudinal and Life Course Studies 2016 conference in Bamberg indicate clearly that socioeconomic and ethnic disparities are apparent in the UK and are important for all those interested in the short and long term implications for early puberty on women’s health and well being.

Mixed race kids: happier than we might think!

It’s been said and shown over the last few decades that mixed race and mixed ethnicity children tend not to do as well socially and emotionally as their non mixed peers. But new research casts a rather different light on the matter, showing that children both in the UK and US who are from mixed backgrounds are actually doing rather better.  James Nazroo from the University of Manchester has been looking at the issue with colleagues at the ESRC International Centre for Lifecourse Studies, UCL and discusses his surprising findings in our latest podcast episode.

Socioemotional wellbeing among mixed race/ethnicity children in the UK and US: Patterns and underlying mechanisms is due to be published in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour. It is part of a wider programme of ESRC funded research led by Child of Our Time editor, Yvonne Kelly at ICLS.

Photo credit: Philippe Put

Born in Bradford

Born in Bradford is a fascinating child health development project following the lives of thousands of children in the city. It hopes to find out more about the causes of childhood illness by studying children from all cultures and backgrounds as their lives unfold.

In this Child of our Time Podcast episode, one of the project’s lead researchers, Professor Kate Pickett from the University of York, explains more about the study, what’s in it that researchers can use, what  it’s found so far and what we can expect to come out of it in the future.

Photo credit: Tim Green

Racism, mixed race and child health

Child of Our Time Editor, Professor Yvonne Kelly has been outlining the impacts of racism on the health and development of children in her keynote talk at a workshop hosted by the Institute for Economic Analysis of Decision Making.

Professor Kelly, who is based at the ESRC International Centre for Lifecourse Studies at UCL, has led a major programme of research looking at the role that ethnicity plays in disparities in child health and behaviour and she and her team have published a range of research from the project.

In today’s talk, she shared some of the key findings from the research around the different outcomes for children from various ethnic backgrounds, including their:

  • birthweight
  • physical development
  • obesity
  • early onset of puberty
  • mother and teacher reports of challenging behaviour
  • verbal skills

The talk also covered the frequency of racist attacks on different groups and their impact on children’s physical and mental health. Brand new research focusing specifically on mixed ethnicity children and their behaviour was also included.

Professor Kelly commented:

“Our research shows clearly that direct and indirect experiences of racism can negatively influence a child’s development and health – whether it be via their access to resources tor the increased likelihood that they will take up unhealthy behaviours.”

She added:

“It’s never too late to prevent disease in childhood or later years. Our research shows that racism is a key consideration for all those seeking to achieve that; policy makers, practitioners and the wider public alike.”

 

 

Reporting children’s challenging behaviour

When it comes to dealing with children’s problem behaviour, do parents and teachers report the same things in the same way and is that linked in some way to the child’s race or ethnicity ? That’s the focus of a recent study by a cross Atlantic team of researchers from the University of Michigan and University College London. Professor Pamela Davis-Kean from the  University of Michigan talked to Child of our Time about the research.

Reports of Externalizing Behavior: Comparative Analyses between the UK and US is research by Rebecca Waller, Afshin Zilanawala, Sheryl Olson, Amanda Sacker, Meichu Chen, Sharon Simonton,  James Nazroo, Yvonne Kelly, James S. Jackson, Pamela Davis-Kean.

Photo credit: helpingting

 

Can racism towards a mum hurt her children?

Racial discrimination affects people in a range of ways. We know, for instance, that it can lead to poor health. We know, too, that our lives are linked, particularly with those of family members. So, can racism suffered by a parent affect a child? Are the negative effects of social ills transmitted within families? If so, how? And how might we be able to break negative links? A new study reveals some interesting patterns and possible explanations, as Dr Laia Becares from the University of Manchester, explains:

Understanding how our lives are linked is an essential part of understanding how society works. We know that racial discrimination affects the health and life chances of an individual, and it leads to inequalities in health among ethnic minority people, compared to the White majority population.

We know, too, that racial discrimination experienced by one individual impacts not only on that particular person, but on family members of the same generation, and those of previous and future generations. For example, if someone is discriminated against at work in terms of a promotion to a better position, or even in terms of getting hired, this has clear important financial consequences for that person, but also for her/his children, and older family members who may be under their care.

This is one of the ways in which the harm of racial discrimination is perpetuated across generations. Socioeconomic circumstances are strongly linked to health, so this example also shows how racial discrimination leads to poor health indirectly – via socioeconomic inequalities.

Racism and our health

But what about the direct association between racial discrimination and poor health, and the way this harm is transmitted across generations?

The Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), a representative study of children born in the UK between September 2000 and January 2002, offers a quality and quantity of data that, with the right interrogation, offers some important suggestions.

To ask the right questions of the data we needed a hypothesis. Drawing on well-established literature, we chose to focus on two potential mechanisms of transmission.

First we looked at the possible impact of racial discrimination on a mother’s mental health and then at the possible impact on parenting practice, particularly the possibility of it increasing harsh discipline tactics. These two mechanisms are centred on increased stress experienced by the mother following experiences of racial discrimination.

We also looked at three different types of exposure to racial discrimination – that suffered by the mother, that suffered by the family as a whole and that affecting the whole neighbourhood.

Information about the MCS children has been collected at various points since the start of the study. We used data collected when the children were between five and eleven years old.

Measuring discrimination

Racial discrimination was measured in terms of the mother’s experience of racially motivated insults, disrespectful treatment, or unfair treatment. We also used measures of whether family members had been treated unfairly, and whether the family lived in a neighbourhood where racial insults or attacks were common.

Mental health was assessed using the Kessler-6 scale – a well-established scale based on how often an individual has felt such things as depression and nervousness over the past month.

We measured harsh parenting practices by using records of how often parents had smacked or shouted at their children. And we measured the child’s socioemotional development by using another well-established scale – the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire developed by Robert Goodman and others.

We adjusted for complicating factors such as mother’s age at time of birth, mother’s educational attainment, household income, whether the mom was born in the UK, and the language most often spoken in the home.

For each factor we used data gathered at relevant stages. So, the measure of racial discrimination is based on data collected when the children were five years old, the mother’s mental health and parenting practices when the children were seven years old and the outcome when the children were aged eleven. The sample was pooled from all UK ethnic minority groups.

Racism and mental health

Around the time of the child’s fifth birthday almost a quarter (23%) of ethnic minority mothers reported having been racially insulted. There was a strong association with less good mental health for the mother two years later.

Both increased maternal psychological distress and increased harsh parenting practices were associated with increased socioemotional difficulties for the child at age 11. A worsening of the mother’s mental health had the most consistent indirect effect on a child’s socioemotional difficulties six years later.

Our results also showed some direct effects of racial discrimination on children. Family experiences of unfair treatment all had a direct effect on a child’s later socioemotional development.

We have to acknowledge some limitations of the study. We restricted ourselves to discrimination faced by mothers and its consequences. There are other things going on in families that affect children’s health. Plus ethnic minority children are likely to experience discrimination directly at school. And, of course, ethnic minority families are more likely to live in deprived areas and to suffer from other social inequalities.

Damage over time underestimated

The study does, however, offer strong support to our hypothesis that a mother’s experience of racial insults, of being treated disrespectfully by shop staff and broader family experience of unfair treatment, harms children over time as a result of the mother’s worsening mental health. This has been underestimated in the past.

If we are to break cycles of deprivation and begin to redress the imbalances in health between the majority and minority populations, policy-makers would do well to put more emphasis on mothers’ mental health.

Whatever is done to reduce a child’s direct experience of racial discrimination – at school, for instance – the mother’s experience and its effect on her is now shown to be important factor in the health of ethnic minority children. That said, the main implication of this study is that racial discrimination is harmful to individuals, families, and societies, and so efforts should be targeted at eliminating it.

A longitudinal examination of maternal, family, and area-level experiences of racism on children’s socioemotional development: Patterns and possible explanations is research by Dr Laia Becares, Professor James Nazroo and Professor Yvonne Kelly and is published in Social Science and Medicine.

Photo credit: moinuddin forhad

How racism hurts

Three compelling short films showing the devastating impact of racism on the health and development of children and adults have been published as part of a project funded by the University of Manchester. The videos, which use performance poetry and film to share the findings from important recent research, are a collaboration between performance poet, Yusra Warsama, researcher, Laia Becares and visual artist, Mauro Camal. The team hopes the films will raise awareness of the harm caused by racial discrimination and that they will contribute to equal health and life chances for all. 

Screaming Targets

Calloused Tongue

You keep digging from your throne

Photo credit: VoxEfx

How well are the kids talking? Ethnic differences in children’s verbal abilities

How well our kids are doing is important to us all. The better they are doing early on in life, the better they’re likely to be doing further down the line as they grow into teenagers and adults. The earlier we can get to grips with any disadvantages or inequalities faced by individuals and groups of people, the sooner we can do something about it. In this research, a team from the ESRC International Centre for Lifecourse Studies has been looking at young children’s verbal abilities to see if there are any differences between different ethnic groups in how they are getting on with talking.

 

Photo credit: U.S. Embassy Pakistan

Understanding ethnicity in the battle against obesity

One in five children in Reception class (age 4-5) at school is either overweight or obese according to the most recent figures from Public Health England. By the time they go into year 6 (age 10-11), the figure rises to one in three. Over time our children are becoming increasingly overweight and it’s a tide that parents, teachers, health professionals and policy makers are struggling to stem. But are there children from particular ethnic and cultural backgrounds who are at greater risk of becoming obese? If so, would a better understanding of who those children are help in the battle against obesity? Afshin Zilanawala has been exploring the links between a child’s weight or BMI and their ethnicity and asking which factors might need further consideration when it comes to tackling the problem.

Healthy eating initiatives like the recent NHS Change for Life Campaign which seeks to make families healthier and happier will hopefully play a role in getting children to eat the right things and be more active. All well and good if the messages are getting through loud and clear. But what if they’re not? And what if the reasons for that are somehow related to a child’s ethnicity?

There have been very few detailed studies of the links between a child’s ethnicity and their weight, something highlighted in the National Obesity Observatory’s 2011 report Obesity and ethnicity. However, a growing body of evidence is showing that children from certain ethnic backgrounds are at greater risk of obesity than their white peers.

So what factors are at play and what can we learn that might help overcome any cultural and social barriers that might stop these important messages getting through?

Key information such as what language is spoken at home, family routines and diet have been missing from the analysis. That combined with a tendency (partly because of a lack of available data) to lump people from very different ethnic backgrounds together has left a real void when it comes to quality evidence that could be used to develop and implement initiatives and interventions that could work.

Scrutinising family and cultural routines

Our research has gone some way to fill that void. We wanted to scrutinise more closely the cultural and family routine factors that might be linked to obesity across and within ethnic groups. We were able to do this making use of the very rich data available in the Millennium Cohort Study, which follows the lives of nearly 20,000 children.

When the children were 5, their height and weight were measured and a parent (usually the mother) answered questions about the family’s circumstances, their cultural traditions and routines.

Things that were taken into consideration about the mother were: whether the mother was working, whether she was a single parent, income and qualifications and her BMI. For cultural traditions we looked at the language spoken at home, and whether the mother was first, second or third generation immigrant. And for family routine and nutrition, we focused on the child’s bedtime and how much fruit they ate each day.

All those things were then looked at to see whether they were linked in any way with a child’s propensity to be overweight or obese at age 5.

Obese and overweight

What we found was that those children from a Black African, Black Caribbean and Bangladeshi background were around twice as likely as their white peers to be obese. Black Caribbean children were the most likely to be obese and Black African children were the most likely to be overweight. Pakistani children, by contrast, were the least likely to be overweight or obese and, indeed, 40% less likely to be obese than their white counterparts.

Other findings included:

  • Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Black Caribbean and Black African children lived in the poorest households
  • Mums of Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani children were most likely to speak a language other than English at home
  • Bangladeshi children were most likely to go to bed after 9pm and least likely to eat any fruit in a day
  • Mums of Black African children were most likely to have a high BMI

What emerged when we drilled down further, however, was that none of the factors we took into consideration could completely explain or account for the ethnic disparities or differences in the likelihood of a child being overweight or obese. That doesn’t mean that we conclude that diet and routine aren’t important, but it does indicate that there may be other important influences at play or that more detailed examination of children’s diet is needed if we are to get a better understanding of these disparities.

It is also clear to us that grouping together children from different backgrounds in research examining these important questions simply does not manage to bring to light which groups of kids are most at risk.

The British Nutrition Foundation has said it is “essential to encourage healthier eating and lifestyle habits from an early age, particularly within ‘at risk’ ethnic groups” and that “acquiring a better understanding of their dietary habits, including aspects of their traditional diets, can help health professionals and educationalists to recognise the needs of these groups and to support them to make healthier food choices”. This is something our research certainly reinforces.

Our work also indicates that obesity-related services for those ethnic group children most at risk could be a step in the right direction. Given that the Government says it wants to see a sustained downward trend in the level of excess weight in children by 2020, initiatives and interventions that take these things into consideration could start tipping the scales more in favour of that ambition being achieved.

What might work?

A report for the Departments of Health and Education back in 2008 made some interesting suggestions about approaches that could work. These included:

  • Encouraging exercise in culturally appropriate activity; eg traditional/contemporary dance for girls; parents who prioritise schooling may react positively to after school clubs
  • Focus on making traditional meals healthier; eg olive oil for ghee or palm oil
  • Get approval/help of key community leaders to champion exercise/ healthy diet
  • Engage with elders to remove assumption that a fat child is a healthy child
  • Encourage children to talk to mothers about issues where mother has little English

Common sense suggestions like these, which are based on observational research, are likely to be useful to local authorities across the UK now tasked with tackling obesity in their communities.

But it is rigorous, robust academic evidence made possible by longitudinal studies like the Millennium Cohort Study that will provide us with the nuanced picture that will help us really get under the skin of the problem of obesity. Focused, informed policies and interventions that emerge from this evidence stand the greatest chance of success.

Further information

This blog is partially based on Race/ethnic disparities in early childhood BMI, obesity and overweight in the United Kingdom and United States, research by Afshin Zilanawala, James Nazroo, Yvonne Kelly, Amanda Sacker, Pamela Davis-Kean and Sharon Simonton published in the International Journal of Obesity.

Photo credit: Viper76