The BMA has warned that tackling poverty and inequality is vital to addressing poor physical and mental health in the UK.
Doctors attending the BMA annual representative meeting in Belfast said UK governments had to recognise that a concerted effort in reducing social inequality was needed to improve national standards of public health.
Birmingham consultant psychiatrist Reinhard Heun said numerous studies had demonstrated the link between poverty and reductions in physical and mental health outcomes and life expectancy.
Dr Heun said reducing social inequality was essential to protecting the health of the public, and particularly children.
He added: ‘Poverty and social inequality are negatively related to poor health and poor quality of life.
‘In England, people living in the poorest areas die, on average, seven years earlier than those in the richest areas.’
He said the negative health impact of inequality was often most significant for children and that around one in four children in the UK was affected by poverty.
Citing evidence contained in the 2013 BMA study Growing up in the UK, he said the pledge of the previous Government of abolishing child poverty had not become a reality.
Dr Heun added: ‘Children cannot be blamed that they go to school hungry, eat unhealthily, have poor education or uneducated parents.
‘Doctors are often the first to see the effects of poverty on diseased patients, including children.
‘We do not just have to treat our patients fairly and efficiently; we also have a duty to raise our voices when progress and improvement are needed.’
Growing up the in the UK found that the main factors likely to have an adverse effect on child health were poor housing, parental unemployment or coming from a low-income family.
Among the recommendations made by the association for improving children’s health were the promotion of better nutrition, parenting support classes and better identification of children in at-risk families.
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