When babies come into the world in Denmark, by far the majority are fortunately sound and healthy. There are no differences in terms of birth weight, abnormalities or the number of premature births with regard to children of ethnic Danish parents compared with children of immigrants and descendants of immigrants.
"Our study shows that there are far more similarities than differences in the first years for children of ethnic Danish parents compared with children of immigrants and descendants of immigrants. This indicates that preventive efforts work when midwives, health visitors and physicians advise pregnant women and new parents,” said Bjørn Evald Holstein, professor emeritus at the National Institute of Public Health and co-author of the Herkomst og Sundhed (Background and Health) report.
The differences emerge when school starts
This report was prepared by researchers from the National Institute of Public Health for the Capital Region of Denmark, and among other things it is based on data about children studied at elementary school in 2007 and up to 2016 at 12 municipalities in the Capital Region of Denmark. The data shows that there are some differences at elementary school. There are more observations regarding food and meals, too little physical activity, language difficulties, and overweight for the children of immigrants and descendants of immigrants.
"When we monitor the development of the children, unfortunately we start to see some more distinct differences between children of ethnic Danish parents compared with children of immigrants and descendants of immigrants. Lack of physical activity, overweight and delayed language development are some of the differences we’ve observed,” explained Bjørn Evald Holstein.
Preventive measures can reduce health inequality
Children of immigrants and descendants of immigrants grow up with parents who, more than ethnic Danish parents, feel that they do not have access to help and support from their social network. Children of immigrants and descendants of immigrants more often have a young mother than ethnic Danish children, their parents more often have no more than a vocational education qualification or basic school, and their parents are more often unemployed. On the other hand, the report shows that children of immigrants and descendants of immigrants are happier at school than ethnic Danish children.
“Looking at the survey overall, we can see that preventive measures after the child's first year could be better. Some children don’t come from the most resourceful families and social backgrounds, and all else being equal, they will have poorer health than their contemporaries,” said Bjørn Evald Holstein
The results of the report clarify the problem of inequality in health and the Capital Region of Denmark has set a political objective to combat this inequality.
“Health inequality is a great challenge, and therefore we must be better at preventing it. The first step is to learn more about where the inequalities arise, and the report shows that we have a group of children that we can be better at monitoring and helping,” said Qasam Ahmad, chairman of the Capital Region of Denmark Committee for Prevention and Cohesion from the political party Alternativet.
Professor Bjørn Evald Holstein explains that the report outlines that health examinations for children from around one year old up to school start could be a good place to strengthen prevention.
"In some municipalities, health visitors visit childcare centres and preschools and observe the children's development and health. Other municipalities have introduced a practice, whereby they examine all children at least once between the age of one and school start. Perhaps other municipalities could learn from this. Because in many cases, they’ll be able to spot and help some of the children with challenges with regard to their health and well-being,” said Bjørn Evald Holstein.