There are over 7,000 births in Devon each year, and birth rates have increased for women in their 30s and 40s. Factors affecting the life chances of children occur before a child is even born. Poor nutrition, smoking and substance misuse during pregnancy can have a major impact on birth weight and the health of the child. Breastfeeding rates in England remain amongst the lowest in Europe. Childhood immunisation uptake rates vary considerably across the county, and are highest in East Devon and Exeter, and lowest in Ilfracombe, Totnes, Dartmouth, Ashburton and Buckfastleigh. Low immunisation rates are associated with a greatly increased likelihood of outbreaks of infectious diseases. Teenage conception rates in Devon are significantly below the national average, there is great variation within the county, reflecting the four fold difference seen nationally between rates in the most and least deprived areas.
Life expectancy at birth in Devon is above the national average, standing at 79.7 years for males and 83.6 for females compared with 78.1 and 82.2 nationally. The gap in life expectancy between the most and least deprived communities, as measured by the slope index of inequality (SII), is the fourth smallest in the country for males (5.1 years compared to 8.8 years nationally), and the seventh smallest for females (2.5 years compared to 5.9 years nationally). In part, this is because Devon has very few areas at the extremes and therefore does not contain the stark socio-economic inequalities seen in other areas across the country. However, if we look at the differences between individual communities we find much greater inequalities, such as the 13.7 year gap between the ward with shortest life expectancy (Ilfracombe Central at 74.7 years) and the longest (Chagford at 88.4 years), revealing the impact that an individual’s start in life can have on their long term health.