The growing divide between rich and poor is risking the health of children in Northern Ireland, warns the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH).

The College’s The State of Child Health report, which looks at data on 25 measures of child health, has revealed that an estimated 23 percent of children in the country are now reported to be living in poverty.

Also, 28 percent of children are overweight or obese, while less than 28 percent of babies at six weeks receive any breast milk, marking the lowest level in the UK.

“We can’t afford to ignore the fact that child health is not as good as it should be in Northern Ireland,” said Dr Karl McKeever, RCPCH Officer for Ireland.

“Poverty is having a devastating effect on families - with smoking and drinking alcohol, poor mental health and obesity amongst children and young people all more likely to affect those from the most deprived backgrounds.”

Without interventions to close the gap between rich and poor and “targeted policies” to improve child health, Northern Ireland will continue to fail its children when it comes to their health, the report warns.

“Many of the illnesses that appear in adults have their roots in childhood - so by investing and intervening early, we’re much more likely to create a healthier population,” McKeever added.

The report makes a series of recommendations to help improve the picture, including: implementation of a child poverty strategy; a ‘child health in all policies’ approach; a ban on smoking in cars when children are present, to pull the country in line with other UK nations and Ireland; and the introduction of minimum unit pricing for alcohol.