i) A survey of the health and lifestyle of carers of children in two deprived electoral wards in Swanley, Kent was carried out during, 1999 and 2000. 155 valid questionnaires were returned from 11.4% of eligible households. 145 of these were completed by mothers.
(ii) 8.4% of respondents were single and 13.5% were divorced or separated. 36.8% of households had a single child and 20% had two children. 36.8% of households had only older children aged 5-15, 39.4% had only young children aged under 5.
(iii) 29% of respondents were the major breadwinner, of these only 37.8% were in employment. 20% of major breadwinners were not employed. 41.9% of respondents were in receipt of state benefits.
(iv) 18.1% of respondents were caring for a child suffering from an illness or disability, 11.6% were limited by this disability. 27.7% said their child had had visited the doctor in the past two weeks. Only just over half of children had seen a dentist in the preceding six months.
(v) 6.5% of respondents said thev were not in goood health. 23.2% had a long term illness, disability or infirmity, twice the level for these two electoral wards in the 1991 Census. 41.3% had seen or talked to a doctor in the previous 2 weeks, 40% had been for the child alone and 2 out of 3 contacts had resulted in a prescription.
(vi) There was some evidence of any health difference related to marital status of the carer. Whilst there was no difference in self-reported ill health, single or divorced/separated people were more likely to have seen a doctor in the past two weeks and married/living as married carers were less likely to have felt depressed or sad over the past year; the differences were not significant. People caring for young children (less than 5) were no more likely to suffer ill health than other carers.
(vii) There was no difference in the health of carers who were major breadwinners, even those who were not in employment. 22% of major breadwinners said they had long-standing illness but so did 24% whose spouse was the major breadwinner. 40% of major breadwinners who were also the carer had a car available to them compared to only 8% whose spouse was the breadwinner.
(viii) There is evidence from the survey of poor health amongst children's carers where the major breadwinner is unemployed. They were more likely to report their health was not good, and more likely to have spoken to a doctor. 54% of carers where the major breadwinner is unemployed reported feeling sad or depressed much of the time; this is significantly higher than for those with employed breadwinners (p = 0.007).
(ix) The survey examined the lifestyles of people looking after children. Striking was that nearly most people eat vegetables several times a week, but 20% were not eating vegetables even three times a week, and 64.5% of carers were not eating fruit even five times a week; one in five eat fruit only occasionally. More than 80% are eating lean meat only once or twice a week, or not at all; 50% virtually never eat fish and two out of three people eat poultry only once or twice a week. People generally are eating bread on a daily basis and 70% eat cheese at least once a week.
(x) 44.5% of the survey population was overweight or obese (i.e. they had a BMI of more than 25). Most of them know they were overweight. 42.6% of respondents did not take regular vigorous exercise. Lack of leisure time was described as the most important reason for this.
(xi) 28.4% of carers surveyed described themselves as current smokers. 56.5% of smokers said they would like to give up. Most smokers were aware of local smoking cessation services, but this is made more difficult because family and friends also smoke, they don't have the willpower, enjoy smoking and are afraid of putting, on weight. Our survey showed that ex-smokers were more likely to be obese than current smokers or those who have never smoked.
(xii) Only 12.9% of people surveyed drink 3 times a week or more. A few respondents drink quite heavily, and 4.5% of people surveyed said they would like to drink less.
(xiii) The survey also examined the mental health of carers. The mean mental state score for the survey population was 66.6%, similar to unemployed people surveyed in the HealthQuest SouthEast survey in 1992, where the general mental score was 73% for females and 77% for males.
(xiv) The mean energy score for people in this survey was 53.8% which is lower than any of the groups analysed in HealthQuest SouthEast where the average score for females was 58% and 63% for males.
(xv) 40.6% of carers surveyed had felt sad or depressed for 2 weeks or more and 60.3% of these had felt sad for most of the past year. These people were more likely to be single, divorced or separated, the major breadwinner, caring for a child with illness, disability or long-standing infirmity, or to suffer disability themselves. They were more likely to be current smokers.
(xvi) It is suggested there are opportunities for the people of Swanley to mount a 'Get Fit and Healthy' campaign based on diet, fitness and stop-smoking activities. Support is needed for single and separated parents, those where the breadwinner is unemployed and those caring for a sick or disabled child or who are disabled themselves.