In Germany, parents’ socioeconomic status and level of education has a big impact on the health of children and adolescents. When parents are poor and lack education, children and adolescents eat less healthily, exercise less, are less involved in sports clubs, and are thus more frequently overweight or obese than their peers from families with a better social status. Sugary food and drinks play a key role here, as they are consumed particularly heavily by children and adolescents from families from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. In addition to causing numerous physical complaints, obesity also negatively affects children’s and adolescents’ confidence and feelings of self-worth.
Around 20 percent of children and adolescents in Germany display symptoms of psychological abnormalities. The children of parents without any educational qualifications are 44 percent more likely to suffer from behavioural disorders such as ADHD compared to the children of educated parents. Boys aged between 7 and 13 especially tend to be diagnosed with ADHD/hyperkinetic disorder and treated with psychotropic medication. There is much evidence to suggest that behavioural problems in children often have no internal causes, and are instead based on unfavourable development conditions, resulting in many misdiagnoses.
In 2016, 26 percent of all children received diagnoses indicating a potentially chronic somatic disorder, while 9 percent of all children also have a potentially chronic psychological disorder. These chronic illnesses may lastingly impede development or even entail further secondary disorders, which is why children and adolescents need access to medical and educational services.
The risk of parents not identifying chronic illnesses as such is three times as high in families with low socioeconomic status as it is among families with high socioeconomic status. This is particularly problematic, as chronic limitations appear more commonly in children from families with low socioeconomic statuses. Many federal initiatives, such as ‘IN FORM’ or the national ‘Gesund aufwachsen’ (‘Growing up healthy’) health target seek to promote the health of children and adolescents and eliminate social differences and disadvantages. Specific measures, such as training or courses, designed to change behaviour – and create a healthier lifestyle – are rarely effective, and often have no impact on socially disadvantaged groups. The important thing is to change the living conditions of children and adolescents in such a way that it is easier for them to make their own health-promoting decisions.
School as a living environment is also a source of concern: 43 percent of school pupils suffer stress as a result of excessive performance pressure, poor grades, a dysfunctional pupil-teacher relationship, or bullying at school and on social media. As such, a third of school pupils complain about headaches, back pain, sleeping problems and panic attacks. The stress increases the higher the year level, and many children and adolescents feel that school is a burden.
- The National Coalition Germany recommends that the UN Committee call on the German federal government to
- 92. Work with states, municipalities and civil society to develop comprehensive health-promoting initiatives which strengthen the state of health of children and adolescents from families with low socioeconomic statuses;
- 93. Create framework conditions for chronically and mentally ill children which facilitate complex, personalised treatment and support management based on the diagnosis, severity of the symptoms, and the living conditions of young patients;
- 94. Work with states and municipalities to make child-focused facilities (such as day-care centres, schools or open youth clubs) health and resilience-promoting places of learning and living, and establish health education in the curricula.