The proportion of children with allergies or dental problems is more than 10 times higher in families on welfare than in those not receiving benefits, a recent university study showed.
Stress, house dust and a lack of supervision with no one around to guide children were seen as contributory factors according to the study conducted by Naoki Kondo, associate professor of social epidemiology at the University of Tokyo, and his team.
The study covered 573 boys and girls under the age of 15 in households receiving welfare benefits in 2016 in two municipalities in Japan. For comparison, the team looked at overall data on children around the same age compiled in a health ministry survey.
Among children in households on welfare benefits, 31 percent of boys aged 5 to 9 suffered from asthma, the highest percentage by age group and gender, and more than 10 times higher than among children in households not receiving benefits.
Similar results were found for allergic rhinitis and dental problems such as cavities and gum inflammation, with the level more than 10 times higher than among children as a whole. For children with eczema, the difference was around fivefold.
Notable differences were also seen among households on benefits, with the proportion of children in single-parent households suffering from eczema and dental problems four times and two times higher, respectively, than households with two parents.
Financial difficulties and the challenges of single parenting are believed to have affected the outcome. “Instead of pointing a finger at single parents, we can improve children’s health by providing additional child care support,” Kondo said.
With the central and local governments starting a health management support program from 2021 for people on welfare, focusing mainly on chronic adult diseases such as diabetes, the survey suggests the need to provide effective assistance for children.
Some municipalities and civic groups have launched initiatives to address the issue, such as study support and after-school activities as well as the provision of meals to children in single-parent households and free or low-cost food in cafeterias.
“It has become clear over time that there needs to be more than just economic support to close the health gap,” said Katsunori Kondo, professor of social preventive medicine at Chiba University, who has studied such health issues.