CHILDREN who grow up in areas that have the greatest literacy challenges are also likely to live much shorter lives than their peers, a study suggests.

It argues that there is a “staggering” gap in life expectancy between those living in communities at the highest and lowest risk of literacy problems.

For example, a boy growing up in a place that is among the most likely to have literary issues has a life expectancy around 26 years shorter than a boy living somewhere that is among the least likely, the National Literacy Trust (NLT) study calculates.

The research calculated how at risk each electoral ward in England was of having low literacy levels, based on factors such as education, employment and income, and split the areas into declines, ranging from the tenth most at risk of literacy problems to the tenth least a risk. This information was then compared to official data on life expectancy. “The national gap in life expectancy between children from communities with the highest and lowest vulnerability to literacy problems in the country is staggering,” the study says.

It calculates that a boy born in Stockton town centre – which is in the tenth of electoral wards most at risk of literacy problems – has a life expectancy 26.1 years shorter than a boy born in the North Oxford ward, which is among the tenth least at risk of literacy issues. This was the largest gap for males.

For girls, those born in Queensgate, Burnley, also among the areas most at risk of literacy problems, had a life expectancy around 20.9 years shorter than those born in Mayfield, Wealden in East Sussex, which again was among the areas least vulnerable to literacy issues.

“Our fresh new analysis of national and local data shows that inequalities in both literacy and life expectancy in England are intensely localised,” the study says.

“Children growing up in wards with the greatest literacy challenges in the country have significantly shorter life expectancies than those growing up in wards with the fewest literacy challenges. The gravity of the extreme local inequalities in mortality makes the challenge to close the literacy gap between communities all the more urgent.”

NLT director Jonathan Douglas said: “If we are to truly transform the life chances of the nation’s most disadvantaged children, we must tackle low literacy one community at a time.”